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The Fulton’s ‘I am my own wife’ is a glorious history lesson

Josh Rittberg

Arts and Culture Editor

Doug Wright’s “I am my own wife” tells the timely and harrowing true story of the Transgender German pioneer, Charlotte von Mahsldorf (Kevin Loreque), who managed to live through Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union all while staying true to herself. Loreque plays Charlotte along with 35 other characters including the playwright himself, Doug Wright, who interviewed Charlotte and helped to tell her story. This one man show is a riveting LGBTQ+ history lesson that surprises and enchants at every turn.

As Charlotte von Mahlsdorf and the other characters in her life, Loreque is a true tour de force. The real Mahlsdorf had a passion for antiques and collecting; a passion that carried her through the adversity she faced in her life. Mahlsdorf was born as Lothar Berfelde to a violent and abusive Nazi leader father. He constantly brought her down and even abused Charlotte’s mother. It was ultimately her aunt who helped her embrace her queerness and come into her own. Loreque acts these scenes of self-discovery with a sense of tenderness and wonder as she has revelations about herself and finds that she enjoys wearing dresses. The darker chapters of her story involve the killing of her father and her controversial reputation as an illegal seller of antiques. The actor brings a warmth to the woman that makes her incredibly likeable even in her darker moments. She is a hero who was an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. Even in the basement of her museum house of antiques, she made a safe haven for those in the LGBTQ+ community to thrive and be themselves.

Loreque also takes on thirty five other characters who include Alfred Kirschner, her good friend and a frequent customer of antique goods. He also brings great spunk and spirit to Mahldorf’s aunt who helps her find herself. Some of his other characters like Charlotte’s dominating father, Max, are utterly terrifying with an imposing presence. Even his performance as Doug Wright himself and Doug’s friend, John Marks, is admirable.  Watching Loreque effortlessly juggle these various people and personalities is nothing short of masterful. He is a natural storyteller who has the audience in the palm of his hand from the moment he steps on stage as the famous Charlotte von Mahlsdorf.

The design elements also play a great deal in transporting the audience into the world of this fascinating woman. Craig Napoliello’s elaborate set literally transforms the entire Studio Theatre into Charlotte’s museum house, complete with old grandfather clocks and illuminating lanterns. Mary Lana Rice’s evocative lighting design is just as immersive with the lanterns and bulbs flickering in the room whenever there is a moment of extreme tension. This specifically includes Charlotte’s horrific murdering of her own father. The lights also have a soft white stillness as Charlotte has exhilarating moments of self-discovery. The creative elements are as elegant and animated as the woman herself, and are truly something to commend. Trey Compton’s direction is also extremely strong as he guides the action fluidly and accessibly, which is no easy task considering the whirlwind of characters and information the audience is exposed to throughout.

The Fulton’s production of “I am my own wife” is a strong piece of LGBTQ+ theatre with a story at its center that must be heard. Loreque is a marvel as he effortlessly inhabits 35 characters, and the creative elements are extraordinary. It cannot be stressed enough how important this story is for this time. Trans voices and LGBTQ+ stories are not heard nearly as often on stage, and pieces of art like Doug Wrights “I am my own wife” brings stories of those luminary figures like Charlotte von Mahlsdorf to light, and keeps them shining with a heroism that is truly commendable.  The Fulton must also be given credit for producing bold and innovative works like this one. The Ellen Arnold Groff Studio Series is typically a place where inspiring and essential stories are heard, and “I am my own wife” serves as an amazing and exhilarating example of the series at a theatrical height.