The tall arches of the Pickering Room in Hubbard Hall transform into the walls of a German antique museum and secret homosexual meeting group as senior Evan Horwitz performs more than 20 different characters in “I Am My Own Wife.” The play follows the history of a German transgender woman who, against all odds, survived the Nazi and Stasi regimes. 

Based on a true story, “I Am My Own Wife” tells the remarkable tale of Charlotte (pronounced Shar-lotta) von Mahlsdorf, born Lothar Berfelde, who lived in Berlin throughout both the Nazi invasion and the East German Communist regime. The play premiered on Broadway in 2004, two years after von Mahlsdorf’s death, winning numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for best play. 

Playwright Doug Wright draws on von Mahlsdorf’s compelling and controversial story through his conversations with her, which began not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Encompassing themes of gender identity, complicity under evil regimes and the act of storytelling, this metadrama reveals the ambiguity of von Mahlsdorf’s history.

Director Jamie Weisbach ’16, who has been involved with dramaturgy, directing and tech, chose “I Am My Own Wife” to embark upon as an independent study project. Weisbach and Horwitz have been working on the production since last May, and began rehearsing in January. 

For Weisbach, directing a one-man-show comes with its challenges and its benefits. 

“It’s just you, the actor, the script and that’s it,” said Weisbach. “I like that simplicity but it’s also a really big challenge.”

Examining the complexity of narrative, the show’s thematic content is complemented by the one-man-show format. With only one person performing, the audience is constantly reminded that they are watching a storyteller tell a story.

“You’re not really working in the mode of realism,” Weisbach added. “You have to find really clear ways of telling the story physically that are not realistic.”

Bringing to life dozens of characters from the voice and body of a single actor is no small theatrical feat. As the only actor on the stage, Horwitz was faced with the challenge of making interactions between characters feel genuine.  

“It has been interesting to find ways to find authenticity and something that feels real, even when I’m the only one there,” said Horwitz. 

“For me, character in life and on stage is how we respond to the world around us,” he continued. “Character doesn’t exist in a vacuum because we don’t.”

Horwitz exploited the presence of an intimate live audience, feeding off their reactions to gain further insight into his characters. 

Switching instantaneously from the mannerisms, tone and posture of a middle-aged American man to those of an elderly German woman, Horwitz embodied a range of characters, including the playwright himself. 

Having the playwright be a character in the script highlights for the audience how the perspective of the storyteller influences the ways in which we see a history, Weisbach said. 
Horwitz worked extensively with Associate Professor of German Jill Smith to refine his dialect, and credited her indispensable insights into German language and historical context. 

Both voice and physicality provided Horwitz with a portal to understanding and differentiating the facets of the show’s various characters. 

“This is a play about heroes, and the stories we tell about heroes, and the things we want to tell about heroes,” said Weisbach. “It’s about rejecting the urge to make people either big flawless heroes or to reject them entirely.” 

“This play tells a phenomenal story that needs to be told,” Horwitz added. 

Performances take place tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. 

Editor’s Note: Horwitz is the author of the Features column “348 and Maine.”