Review: A Powerhouse Performance by Rp Mclaughlin, a Story of Identity with I AM MY OWN WIFE at Stageworks Theatre

Do Not Miss This One-Handed Tour-De-Force Onstage Through February 25 Th.

By: Feb. 20, 2024
Review: A Powerhouse Performance by Rp Mclaughlin, a Story of Identity with I AM MY OWN WIFE at Stageworks Theatre
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“We turned the corner and it’s like we turned the clock back a hundred years or more...”

Doug Wright a Drama Desk Nominated and Tony Award-winning Playwright wrote I Am My Own Wife, based on his conversations with German Antiquarian Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. It premiered off-Broadway at Playwright Horizons in 2003. Later that same year it made its official Broadway transfer. Developed by Moises Kaufman (Laramie Project, 33 Variations), and his Tectonic Theatre Project, where Kaufman also assumed the task of Directing. Jefferson Mays would portray the role of Mahlsdorf, both off- Broadway and then the Broadway transfer. Mays would be tasked with portraying upwards of 40 roles in this show. Playwright Doug Wright went on to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his work on the piece.

As I said previously above, Stageworks Theatre takes on the responsibility of tackling the themes of Identity presented here. As the show is an examination of the life of Mahlsdorf,  who having killed her father at a young age, went on to survive Nazi/Communist Regime in East Berlin as a transgender woman.

A 1992 film by avant-garde Director Rosa von Praunheim was tied into Wright’s play and both are based on Mahlsdorf’s autobiography issued in 1992, and translated in ’95.

The play went on to win both Best Play and Best Lead Actor in a Play at the 2004 Tony Awards Ceremony.

On the topic of Identity, I feel Producing Artistic Director, Karla Hartley, says it best in her Program Notes by saying,

“Last year, as I was choosing the season, there were a number of anti-LGBTQ laws passed here in Florida. A patron asked how these laws would affect the work Stageworks Produced....I thought it certainly should...

Trans stories being told are of utmost importance in today’s society, particularly in areas that are actively working to restrict and rescind the rights we hold dear. These narratives play a crucial role in promoting understanding, acceptance, and inclusivity for the transgender community. By sharing their experiences, challenges, and triumphs, trans individuals shed light on the unique struggles they face and pave the way for a more empathetic and informed society.

Charlotte von Mahlsdorf’s story would be extraordinary even if her identity was entirely ordinary. Her story is inspirational for us all. The authenticity with which she moved through the world inspires me to live with joy and reverence for the resilience of my community and those whom I love.

It is essential that we listen to and amplify trans voices to create a world where everyone is seen, valued, and respected.”

No wiser words have ever been spoken, and this idea ignites the flame ringing true in Stageworks Mission Statement, ... “To Ignite the Human Spirit...”

With the presentation of I Am My Own Wife...the fine folks at Stageworks Theatre have done just that, and continue to achieve their mission.

Now for the production at hand...

On first walking into Stageworks, you immediately feel at home, a place so grounded in the familiar, from faces to decor, to even the smell that is uniquely Stageworks, you instantly get a feeling of family. Greeted by smiling faces and hugs enveloping you with open arms, this is a place where you genuinely feel you are accepted, and free.

Something all-too important especially in presenting the show we are about to see.

The beautiful rendering of the set created by Scott Cooper, is exceptionally presented here. Its intimate design puts you right in the center of the story, nothing garishly displayed or cluttered throughout, just simply personified in the time of the piece, but uniquely modern in its own right. So much so that it doesn’t hinder the story being presented before us. Flanked high above by screens presenting different German words throughout the piece, keep us right in line with the telling of the story.  I am always excited when I am given the chance to see a show being presented on a set by Scott Cooper,  meticulously developed and thought out down to the smallest of details. Perfectly captured by the skilled handiwork of Technical Director Paul McColgan, making this a beautifully perfected world in which this story needs to be told.

Lighting Design by Celeste N. Silsby Mannerud flows hand in hand with not only the emotion of the show, but also brilliantly highlights the subtlety of beauty captured in Scott Cooper’s Set Design. Working seamlessly together with Karla Hartley’s Video/ Sound Design helping to pull everything together as one cohesive unit. Karla’s video/ projection work keeps the audience in line with the plight of the story and allows us to follow the story without getting lost. Even if you have very little understanding of German nomenclature, you will never find yourself confused or lost.

Costume Design brilliantly executed by Deborah Lastinger, allows us to understand through and through who this character is. Allowing a period piece to transport the audience in a simplistic and well-thought-out rendering of what Charlotte would have been seen in, during her time in East Berlin. Skylar Jay’s scenic artistry pulled Scott Cooper’s rendering into the world of the piece, and made everything flow with masterful beauty.

The exceptional work of performer RP McLaughlin as Charlotte von Mahlsdorf is a perfectly executed Masterclass in Acting. Down to the finest details, they deliver a perfectly balanced and nuanced performance.  You hang on every word, follow ever movement, and dive deep into their plight as they tell this harrowing and moving story. Having witnessed RP’s performances in other local area venues, his work here is otherworldly, a true bravura of a performance. Seamlessly transitioning in and out of upwards of 40 characters is no small feat for even the most seasoned of performers, and RP does so with finesse, gusto, and the right amount of timing, all catapulting to a truly unforgettable performance. A moving, and heart-wrenching performance that needs to be experienced, and will be seared into my memory for time to come.  A life-changing and career-changing performance, putting RP on the map as one of the area’s finest performers. RP should be exceptionally proud of the work they presented here,  never over the top, never understated, but perfectly balanced in nuance and emotion, and one I could experience again and again. Capturing lightning in a bottle  and exploding out the top with what will sure to be one of the most talked about performances of the year, and possibly the next decade.

Stageworks Theatre has provided its audience with an in-depth look on the ideas behind the theme of “Identity,” with its presentation of Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife. it cultivates, and captures the harrowing story behind a person’s journey of Self- Discovery in a time when even the idea of “Self” was an unknown factor that could ultimately change the course of your life forever. A story perfectly placed in their season, and beautifully told by all involved. You would be incredibly remiss if you let the chance pass you by to see the incredible work on display here. One of the finest performances, and completely captivating shows to hit the Bay Area in recent years.  I am for one not only honored but humbled to have had the chance to experience it for all its greatness. Tickets on sale through February 25th, visit www.stageworkstheatre.org, for more information on tickets.

“And the last days of the world war were the most dangerous time for me beacuse I refused to carry a weapon or to wear a uniform. Instead, I had my hair long and blond and my mother’s coat, and the shoes of a girl. And so I was---in Germany we say “Freiwild.” Like the Jews, we were wild game.

Berlin was destroyed. I was walking about---the houses were all broken---and the street was full of rubble. Yes. And I would turn a street, and there was coming Russian airplanes with the splatter of bombs--so close you could see the pilot with the helmet and the goggles. And this was very dangerous, because wherever you were standing the splatter bombs exploded into the earth. Pieces went everywhere. There was no escape...”

PHOTO CREDIT: STAGEWORKS THEATRE


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