Tranny trauma 


Tranny trauma
I Am My Own Wife
Through Aug. 9 at
Mad Cow Theatre Company
105 S. Magnolia Ave.
407-297-8788
www.madcowtheatre.com
$22

I Am My Own Wife, a one-character work by Doug Wright now playing at Mad Cow Theatre under the direction of Alan Bruun, is the story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a cross-dressing, antiquarian museum curator who was born one Lothar Berfelde in Berlin in 1928. An open transvestite and supporter of Germany's gay community, von Mahlsdorf walked a dangerous path most of her life under both the Nazis and the Communists, two repressive administrations that considered homosexuality a crime against the state.

The play swept up a plethora of awards in 2004, including the Drama Desk Award, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play of the year. The current production stars Keith Kirkwood, who plays von Mahlsdorf as well as 30-odd ancillary roles, including the playwright himself, various government officials, von Mahlsdorf's friends, relatives and acquaintances, and a gaggle of reporters and assorted American GIs.

As the years have passed, von Mahlsdorf has been lauded as a brave role model for the gay, lesbian and transgendered community. It is true that her ability to "live in the lion's den" while being "as smart as the snakes" speaks volumes for her decency and mettle. Yet, compared to the enormous suffering of millions of her compatriots during those difficult decades, her own trials appear to be relatively mild.

Except for a brief internment when she was 16 for the brutal murder of her abusive father, and although she was threatened and harassed, she never seems to have been otherwise detained, imprisoned or physically harmed by either the SS or the Stasi, East Germany's secret police force. Her most trying times came late in life, when the exposure of secret files revealed her to be a more willing informer for the Communists than she had previously admitted. The concomitant accusations forced her to emigrate in 1997 to Sweden. She died five years later, at the age of 72, while visiting Berlin.

Hagiography aside, the most significant reason for attending Mad Cow's production is the impressive performance of Kirkwood, whose delicate rendering of von Mahlsdorf persuades one of her civility, inner strength and courage in the face of two of the last century's most pernicious and inhuman regimes. Kirkwood neither sentimentalizes nor aggrandizes his character; his soft-spoken interpretation is mesmerizing and sympathetic. It's an expertly woven tale of a historically significant and interesting personage.

arts@orlandoweekly.com

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