BWW Review: Lyric Theatre's I AM MY OWN WIFE Showcases Matthew Alvin Brown's Multifaceted Skill
Lyric Theatre continues its 2017 Season with the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning I AM MY OWN WIFE, a one-man show starring familiar Lyric performer Matthew Alvin Brown. Brown portrays over 30 characters, utilizing a myriad of accents and dialects, to tell the engrossing true story of of a 20th Century antique collector, who also happened to be a communist informant, secret gay nightclub owner, and self-proclaimed transvestite.
Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, the main character of I AM MY OWN WIFE, was a real person who escaped the Nazis and worked as an informant in post-World War II Germany. Born male, by the name of Lothar Berfelde, Charlotte spent her adult life living as a female (today, we would most likely use the term transgender, though that word wasn't an option then) in a time before transgender and other LGBTQ identities were as well-known as they are today. At age 64, she was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit, the only federal decoration of Germany.
In this one-man show, Charlotte and all the other roles are portrayed by Matthew Alvin Brown. While remaining in a single costume (designed by Jeffrey Meek) - low-heeled boots, a head kerchief, and a plain gray dress, accented only by a simple string of pearls - Brown instantly transforms before our eyes into over 30 different people to tell von Mahlsdorf's story. In an interesting structure, the playwright Doug Wright is actually a personality in his own play: Brown portrays both sides of the interviews between playwright Doug and Charlotte, plus numerous supporting roles. In this astounding theatrical feat, Brown deftly imbues each part with a distinct voice and physicality, jumping from one person to the next in the blink of an eye. He is particularly nimble and auspicious in landing the humor of Wright's script; his Charlotte always has a twinkle in her eye, adding much-needed levity to some of the heavier plot points. While I sometimes wished for a bit more profundity in his characterizations and a smoothening of his speech patterns, the brief rehearsal process and memorization of more than two hours worth of constant monologue is a triumph in-and-of itself ... I'm sure Brown's nuances will solidify throughout the run.
Wright's script, the first one-man show to win the Pulitzer, tells Charlotte's story economically and engagingly. Throughout the evening, we learn of Charlotte's history: personal, governmental, sexual ... and her story is rife with drama - Is Charlotte really telling us the truth? Did she betray her friends in an effort to save herself? Will she be discovered and punished? - enough for a stack of John le Carré spy novels. However, Wright wisely balances the suspense with a smattering of wit, highlighting Charlotte's playful spirit (which Brown naturally enhances) and unashamed moxie.
Lyric's Artistic Director Michael Baron has given Brown free reign to fully embody these characters. His staging is appropriately simple, allowing the words to shine without the need for much adornment. The set, designed by Katie Sullivan (and also used in repertory with JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, running concurrently with ...WIFE) is a treasure trove of bookshelves and curio cabinets, often illuminated (lighting designed by Art Whaley) to provide a suitably moody atmosphere.
I applaud Baron for presenting a play that touches on many hot-button talking-points; however, like all truly great art, this play humanizes the people behind the politics, providing insight and relatability, which ultimately brings about empathy and understanding. Charlotte's story is an important one - especially significant with transgender rights being so politicized at the moment; yet in Brown and Baron's capable hands, a veritably entertaining evening at the theatre ... not to be missed.
I AM MY OWN WIFE is playing at the Plaza Theatre through April 9th. For tickets, call 405-524-9312 or CLICK HERE to purchase online.
I AM MY OWN WIFE
By Doug Wright; presented by Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma; directed by Michael Baron, lighting design by Art Whaley; sound design by Matthew Sykes; set design by Katie Sullivan; costume design by Jeffrey Meek; production stage manager, Liz Larsen.
March 29th - April 9th, 2017 at the Plaza Theatre.
Photo credit: KO Rinearson