‘I Am My Own Wife’: Living in drag in Nazi Germany

Charlie DelMarcelle in Theatre Horizon’s “I Am My Own Wife.” Credit: Plate 3 Photography
Charlie DelMarcelle in Theatre Horizon’s “I Am My Own Wife.”
Credit: Plate 3 Photography

Charlie DelMarcelle likens his role – or, more accurately, roles: 35 of them to be exact – in Doug Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “I Am My Own Wife” to “one of those old cartoons where you’re crossing a rickety rope bridge over a pool of lava — just don’t look down.”

The play recounts the true story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who was born a man but lived under the Nazis and Communists disguised as a woman. She saved household items from bombed-out houses, eventually founding Berlin’s Gründerzeit Museum with her collection. Wright’s own journey to meet her becomes an integral part of the play, which reflects Charlotte’s secret identity by having one actor play every part.

“The play deals with the facades and the masks that we build for ourselves,” says DelMarcelle. “It’s concerned with both the way an individual chooses to present themselves to the world and the way we choose to see other people and the representations they’ve created for our benefit. So one person playing all these different parts makes a great deal of sense.”

Beyond the challenge of, as DelMarcelle describes it, “showing up on the first day of rehearsal and being handed a script and told, ‘That’s for you,’” there’s also the simple fact that a one-man show eliminates one of the essential components of theatrical acting: collaboration. “It’s going to be really lonely,” DelMarcelle says. “I go in, stare at myself in the mirror in the dressing room, say goodbye at the end of the night and walk to my car with the sad music from ‘Charlie Brown’ playing.”

Despite the pure theatricality of the production, which keeps DelMarcelle in a simple black dress and headscarf throughout, suggesting the parade of other characters with a change in posture or an arched eyebrow, the actor says that the show harkens back to a most basic form of storytelling. “If you’re out at a restaurant having a drink or at a family gathering, we all do a bit of light roleplaying when we tell stories. We take on the physicality or voice of the people we’re talking about. This is that, taken to some really extreme levels, with a little more polish and rehearsal.”

“I Am My Own Wife”
Nov. 7-24
Theatre Horizon
401 DeKalb St., Norristown
$25-$35, 610-283-2230
www.theatrehorizon.org


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