Ich bin ein transvestite

I Am My Own Wife
8pm Fri, 7pm Sat, 2:30pm Sun
Through Feb 11
$20 adults, $15 students and children
The San Pedro Playhouse Cellar Theater
800 W. Ashby
If you had to turn your head in horror during Doug Wright’s Quills (play or film, pick one) take heart that the San Pedro Playhouse Cellar Theater’s production of Wright’s I Am My Own Wife should cause the exact opposite reaction. The absence of blood, sex, and excrement is certainly easier on the eyes, but what makes this one-person show mesmerizing is essentially the only thing it has going for or against it: the performance of Gregory Hinojosa as German transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (and about 20 other characters, including Wright himself).

Charlotte is just the kind of controversial personality that Wright’s plays are made of, but unlike the Marquis de Sade, she was alive and available for interview when Wright became interested in writing about her. Though anatomically male, Charlotte (born Lothar Berfelde) identified as a woman early in her rather incredible life. As a teenager, Charlotte murdered her father with a rolling pin in fear that he would harm her family. She lived in Berlin under Nazi Germany, and then under communism — neither regime kindly toward homosexuals. But she survived, collecting antiques (especially clocks and record players) that would eventually be at home in her Gründerzeit Museum.

Gregory Hinojosa nails the mannerisms and the emotions in the Cellar’s production of I Am My Own Wife.

Much like Adaptation imagines Charlie Kaufman’s attempt to adapt a book for the screen, I Am My Own Wife chronicles Wright’s attempt to adapt a life for the stage. Wife spans years of excited work on the playwright’s part — researching, trying to scrape together cash for travel — and his eventual disillusionment as cracks begin to form in Charlotte’s supposedly true story. Everyone who’s wanted to believe an inspiring lie or partial truth (A Million Little Pieces, anyone?) can step into Wright’s shoes.

Hinojosa is hypnotic as Charlotte: Calm, gracefully feminine, and in control — all with perfect comic timing and a nice German accent. His miming skills conjured a record player and a tape recorder out of nothingness; his mere gaze into an imaginary mirror made it come into being as he portrayed  Charlotte seeing herself in a dress for the first time. Hinojosa, alone onstage with the dings of a Westminster clock and an invisible rolling pin in hand, had me goosebumped and teary. It’s not often I emerge from a play with that knee-jerk, rollercoaster reaction, “Let’s go again,” but I did, and deservedly so. The singularity of person onstage established an emotional momentum similar to the way a long take does in film. There was no escaping until the end.

That said, I became confused on occasion between the characters of Wright and his friend John Marks, as Hinojosa affected a similar twangy accent for them both. But patient pacing, clear blocking, and distinct physicality to indicate change in character kept things remarkably uncomplicated for the most part.

The blocking also ensures every seat in the house is a good one. I was seated perpendicular to the right edge of the stage, and although wary at first, I have no doubt my experience was as complete as that of anyone sitting front and center, save one momentary lighting-related incident.

Despite momentary blindness, this production left me satisfied because it landed the ambiguous ending: Yeah, maybe Charlotte is lying, but maybe that doesn’t make her story less valuable. She’s been living her lie for so long, it seems just as much a part of her as anything else. Or, as Lord Byron once wrote (I think it is particularly appropriate here), “And, after all, what is a lie? ’Tis but the truth in masquerade.” 

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