“I Am My Own Wife,” a 2003 play by Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright, examines one woman’s survival as a transvestite through two of the harshest periods of time in the 20th century.
As part of the Queer Theatre Festival, senior Paul Nardone took on the challenge of performing “I Am My Own Wife” as the sole actor, director and set designer.
The tale of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who was born as Lothar Berfelde, is told through various mediums throughout the play: recordings by the playwright, television shows and letters between characters. Her tale involves being forced to live through both the Nazi and communist regimes as a gender that was not socially acceptable.
Single-actor plays are very difficult to pull off, as the one actor has to command and maintain the audience’s attention throughout the entire show. The focus never shifts away from that one actor which leaves them very little breathing room.
Nardone said that the process of rehearsing the show was very difficult, especially without a director’s guidance.
“The biggest battle I had with this show was taking on the role of director, designer and actor. I not only had to learn my lines, but I also had to research the play, direct my movements, find and make props [and] find my costume – all these little things that actors take for granted,” Nardone said.
Some of the difficulties of learning and performing “I Am My Own Wife” stemmed from the content of the show itself. Nardone had to memorize parts of the German language and work off very little material to research.
“Charlotte does have an autobiography and that was essentially it. I found maybe two clips on YouTube that were a whopping 30 seconds long to give me an idea on how this character moved talked and held herself,” Nardone said.
Despite these challenges, Nardone put on an impressive performance. “It was so evident that Nardone intimately connected with his text for his performance,” senior Adam LaSalle said. “This made the show so enticing that I believed I was watching an entire ensemble on stage. The show was nothing short of extraordinary.”
An important feature of the show is the message Wright tries to convey through von Mahlsdorf’s story. Nardone said the message is not to change the person you are no matter the challenges you face.
“We are so fixated on being the best, being the most beautiful, the most talented that we forget our true selves. We live in a society where it wants to change you if you don’t fit that mold and it’s a shame,” Nardone said.