Char­lotte von Mahls­dorf killed her fa­ther, sur­vived the Nazis, the Com­mu­nist and the neo-Nazis – and find­ing out who she was makes great theatre in I Am My Own Wife.

DNA Magazine - - CONTENTS -

A SOUL-STIR­RING true story, I Am My Own Wife de­tails the life of ho­mo­sex­ual trans­ves­tite Char­lotte von Mahls­dorf. But who was she?

As a child, Char­lotte (born Lothar Ber­felde) killed her fa­ther for fear he would kill her first. She spent time in a psy­chi­atric in­sti­tu­tion and

ju­ve­nile jail was forced to join the Hitler Youth. She sur­vived the Nazi regime and the Com­mu­nist to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism in East Ger­many that fol­lowed the war.

Mahls­dorf went on to es­tab­lish the Grun­derzeit Mu­seum, fea­tur­ing ev­ery­day items from the found­ing era of the Ger­man Empire. The mu­seum be­came a pop­u­lar meet­ing place for the East Ber­lin gay com­mu­nity.

Her strug­gles didn’t end there: both the

East Ger­man gov­ern­ment and neo-Nazis at­tempted to de­stroy the mu­seum. Even­tu­ally Mahls­dorf re­ceived the Or­der of Merit of the Fed­eral Repub­lic of Ger­many and, in later years, con­veyed her story to play­wright Doug Wright who cre­ated the Pulitzer Prize-win­ning play, I

Am My Own Wife.

The one-per­son show, which has col­lected Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Ac­tor, fea­tures over thirty char­ac­ters and has been pro­duced around the world in­clud­ing Swe­den, Mon­treal, Athens and Tas­ma­nia. Its var­i­ous interpretations in­cluded a pro­duc­tion in Chicago last year with four ac­tors in the role and the first trans ac­tor to play Char­lotte. An out­stand­ing per­for­mance by Ben Ger­rard toured Aus­tralia re­cently. It’s cur­rently play­ing at Perth’s Black Swan Theatre, star­ring Brendan Han­son, di­rected by Joe Lui (Let­ters Home).

Han­son (who the sharp-eyed will recog­nise as a fi­nal­ist in the drag re­al­ity TV show, I Will Sur­vive) stud­ied at the West­ern Aus­tralian Academy of Per­form­ing Arts (WAAPA) and has his work cut out for him, given there are over thirty char­ac­ters.

“It’s a unique process do­ing a one-per­son play,” says Han­son. “Nor­mally, I don’t learn my lines un­til re­hearsals com­mence but, ob­vi­ously, that’s not pos­si­ble with 70 pages of text and 36 char­ac­ters with ac­cents. So I’ve been learn­ing my lines over the last three months on the tread­mill at the gym, on the train, wher­ever and when­ever I get a spare mo­ment!”

Han­son re­searched the role by read­ing Mahls­dorf’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy and study­ing the famed Ger­man sex­ol­o­gist and gay/trans­gen­der ad­vo­cate Dr Mag­nus Hirschfeld. His book

Die Transvestiten played a piv­otal role in Mahls­dorf’s life.

Han­son holds the role in great esteem, with an un­der­stand­ing of its melan­choly but also its abil­ity to up­lift.

“I Am My Own Wife is a beau­ti­fully crafted and evoca­tive play,” he says. “It in­vites the au­di­ence to make up their own mind about Char­lotte. She’s charm­ing, play­ful, in­tel­li­gent and com­plex. It en­cour­ages the au­di­ence not to judge her for who she is or even the choices she has made, but in­spires em­pa­thy for a per­son who has ex­pe­ri­enced and en­dured much.”

MORE: I Am My Own Wife plays at the Black Swan Theatre Perth, Oc­to­ber 12 to 29.

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