I Am My Own Wife: A trans pioneer’s tale of wartime survival

Brendan Hanson as Charlotte von Mahlsdorf

Charlotte von Mahlsdorf’s life may sound like a work of fiction, but her mark on this earth was very real.

The focus of Doug Wright’s Pulitzer and Tony Award winning play I Am My Own Wife, von Mahlsdorf was a trans woman, Nazi survivor, antiquarian, entertainer, LGBTI+ pioneer… and murderer.

Director Joe Lui caught up with OUTinPerth to share his vision for Wright’s one-hander, and give us a little more insight about this marvellous woman.

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“We find Charlotte having survived Nazi Germany and then Soviet-Bloc Eastern Germany, and then the play delves into her and her recollection of those two regimes and the things that she did to survive,” Lui explains.

“What’s fascinating about the piece is that the lines of the verifiable truth and the story she tells herself, essentially to help her sleep at night, start blurring and then that takes us into some really fascinating territory towards the end.”

Wright’s work shows us von Mahlsdorf as she approaches the end of her days (she passed in 2002), reflecting on her tragic and flamboyant life. Lui says one of the most captivating things about the powerful figure was her unexpectedly meek demeanour.

“If you go online and look at her and listen to her speak, it’s awesome and fascinating because she’s has been through so much but at the end of the day she’s just this little old lady.”

“That’s one of the great things about the play, it doesn’t try to glamourise her in any way and it’s really delicious and exciting to a director and to an audience because it’s not hagiographical. It’s trying to explore a human being and we learn that she’s quiet, charming, funny and sweet and yet has gone through so much in her life.”

The story is told from the perspective of an aged von Mahlsdorf, who takes us back in time through her own memories. There, the audience learns more about her learning about her gender, her establishing a cabaret safe haven for the LGBTI+ community, the death of her father and so much more… but the truth is not clear.

“It’s through her retelling. So by the end we are not sure if it happened in the way that she said that it happened or whether she has embellished certain parts of the story that will fit in with her narrative a bit better…”

I Am My Own Wife will be at Studio Underground in the State Theatre Centre from 12 – 29 October. Tickets and more information available from BSSTC.com.au

Leigh Andrew Hill

Image:- Daniel James Grant


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