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August 14, 2006 - Image 10

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Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2006-08-14

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10 - The Michigan Daily - Monday, August 14, 2006
One man shines as
one woman in'Wife'

By Caroline Hartmann
Daily Arts Writer
"You were born in the West, yes? Did the
Stasi ever come to your door?"
Charlotte von Mahlsdorf's deceivingly deli-
cate voice begs the audience for an honest
answer in Doug Wright's "I Am My Own Wife,"
- a one-person play profil-
ing the life of Charlotte von
Mahlsdorf - performed I Am My
by Malcolm Tulip at the Own Wife
Performance Network The-
atre, running now through Through
August 27. August 27
Tulip's role stretches far $24.50-$34.50
beyond Charlotte's char- At the Performance
acter, as he effortlessly NetworkTheatre
assumes the position of over
thirty other characters. Though this unusual
format is less than ideal for those lacking an
attention span, it does illuminate a diverse
spectrum of interpretations of the frustratingly
ambiguous life of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf.
An incredible anomaly of the 20th century,
the man born Lothar Berfelde later became
Germany's most famous transvestite and social
magnet. Living openly under Nazi - and later
Communist - rule, Charlotte survived against
all odds as countless peers and close friends qui-
etly disappeared under the curtain of bigotry.
Her livelihood grew from an uncommon love
of antique furniture and gramophones, trans-
forming her home into a public museum. She
was also an avid music collector, turning to rich
melodies for escape from an abusive childhood
under the reign of a ruthlessly militant father.
Refusing to choke down the German media's

propaganda and political rhetoric, Charlotte
opted for an extensive record collection instead
of buying a television or radio.
Charlotte's identity as a woman stemmed
from experimenting with his Aunt "Tante"
Luise's female clothes, which she shed in favor
of more a masculine garb. Tante Luise present-
ed Lothar with a book on transvestites, putting
words to feelings that Lothar had been unable
to express up until that point.
"Be as smart as snakes," Tante Luise warned
Charlotte. "Never forget you're lying in the
lion's den."
But as Charlotte grew confident in her natural
identity, she wasn't just lying with lions - she
was taming them. Going so far as to reestablish
the infamous nightclub Mulack-Ritze Cabaret
in her own basement, Charlotte's public muse-
um enterprise was also the epicenter of the sex-
ually adventurous in Germany who were forced
into hiding.
Playwright Doug Wright visited Charlotte's
museum in the early '90s, claiming that Char-
lotte - rather than the furniture - was the
artifact worth noticing. Their platonic rela-
tionship began shortly after as Wright felt con-
vinced that Charlotte's life would be the focus
of his next great piece of work.
But Wright's fascination for Charlotte went
haywire when his beloved friend's files were
released to the press and revealed her to be
a Stasi informant in years past. Though the
alarming news meant Charlotte was now up for
suspicious scrutiny, Tulip rightfully recognized
that "it is easy to question, easy sitting where
we are to do so."
Thus, Tulip's impersonation of an aged
Charlotte - whimsical, eccentric and oddly
disguised - should be taken with a grain of
salt. "I Am My Own Wife" delves into her life's

4

Eccentricity meets profundity at the Performance Network Theatre.

intricacies, though with a distinct bias support-
ing her seemingly irreproachable decisions.
"I don't think she ever did anything except
for her own survival," Tulip said. "And the sur-
vival of her furniture," he added laughingly.
Though Tulip's carefully refined perfor-
mance is noteworthy, the real treasure in the
script of "I Am My Own Wife" is the mysteri-

ous character of Charlotte herself. Despite the
humble and intimate theater - dressed with a
predictable, static set - Charlotte's character
remains less than discernible.
Despite the ambiguous nature of Charlotte's
gender identity and political dealings, Malcolm
Tulip delivers a tour de force performance that
leaves little room for doubt.

9

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