I Am My Own Wife
By Doug Wright
March 8 - April 1 2007
SNAP! Productions presents the Omaha premiere of Doug Wright's I Am My Own Wife, directed by Kevin Lawler, from March 8 through April 1, 2007.
I Am My Own Wife tells the true story of playwright Doug Wright's encounter with Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, an East German transvestite who survived the two most repressive regimes of the Western world – the Nazis and the Soviet-dominated Communist dictatorship. In this highly theatrical journey, Wright is driven to uncover the secrets of a woman whose very existence seems an impossibility.
Actor Nick Zadina plays Wright, von Mahlsdorf, and nearly 40 other characters in this widely-acclaimed story of truth and survival. Winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the 2004 Tony Award for Best Play, and a host of other awards, I Am My Own Wife promises a "vibrant, vital, and fascinating" night of theatre (USA Today).
“I Am My Own Wife is the most stirring new work to appear on Broadway this fall...both moving and intellectually absorbing.” —NY Times
Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, et al - Nick Zadina
Director - Kevin Lawler
Producer - Jennifer Gilg
Assistant Director/Dramaturge - Ron Zank
Stage Manager - Thomas Lowe
Costume Design - Nancy Ross
Stitcher - Chris Lustgarden
Set Design - Bill Van Deest
Miniature Design - Paul Pape
Dialect Coach - Susie Baer Collins
Lighting Design - Homero Vela
Sound Design - Molly Welsh
Sound Consultant - Dave Podendorf
Properties Design - Rhonda Hall, Nancy Ross
Sound Technician - Dan Baye
Light Technicians - Daena Schweiger & Liz Kendall
Set Construction - Bill Van Deest, Jerry Evert, Adam Nathan, Kevin Lawler, Joe Basque,
Sheridan Fletcher, Michael Taylor Stewart, Liz Kendall, Jennifer Gilg,
Denise Chevalier, Brad Howard, Carol Wisner, Jeff Nelson, Daena Schweiger
Publicity - Todd Brooks
Poster, Program, Publicity Photos, Web Video - Mark Cramer
Box Office Manager - Liz Heim
Lobby Art Curator - Tom Reardon
Lobby Artist - Bud Cassiday
Published Sunday | March 4, 2007
Actor tackles 40 roles in search for identity
BY BOB FISCHBACH
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
The hardest thing about doing a play with a cast of just one isn't what you think.
True, learning your lines takes more time when all the lines belong to you.
But that's just extra homework, say veteran actor/directors Kevin Lawler and Nick Zadina.
What's tough, they say, is grabbing your audience's attention and holding it, start to finish.
Lawler is directing Zadina in the one-man drama "I Am My Own Wife," winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize and best-play Tony, which opens Friday at the tiny SNAP/Shelterbelt Theatre.
It's the story of a German transvestite named Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (born Lothar Berfelde), an antiques curator who survived the Nazis, the East German communists and the fall of the Berlin Wall as an up-front gay man in a dress.
Playwright Doug Wright fashioned his script from interviews with von Mahlsdorf, who has since died. Zadina will play not only the playwright and von Mahlsdorf but nearly 40 more characters who arise in telling von Mahlsdorf's story. The two-act play is expected to run about 100 minutes.
Lawler, a co-founder of Omaha's Blue Barn Theatre who now is based in New York City, has been sharing with Zadina the ins and outs of performing a one-man show. In 1988, Lawler did Lanford Wilson's 35-minute one-man play, "A Poster of the Cosmos," in New York. Last year he appeared at the Blue Barn in Will Eno's "Thom Pain," an 80-minute solo drama.
His main memory of both shows, he says, was feeling the audience's energy in a completely different way than in plays with multiple characters.
It's intense, almost palpable, Lawler said. "And if it's going poorly, you can really feel it fading away, too."
When you're the whole show, Lawler said, "you're understandably more nervous about 'Am I gonna be good, are they gonna like me.'" But that can rob an actor of focusing on his only objective: telling the story the best he can.
"You have to redirect your nerves to that positive result. We talk about that a lot, getting that desire to connect into Nick's head and heart."
Zadina has embraced Lawler's psychological preparation.
"It's very empowering to hear you're not going out there to be good, but to tell this story about a character worth hearing about," Zadina said. "You need to think about the words, not people's reaction to them."
He arrived at rehearsals four weeks ago with his lines learned - a rule Lawler picked up from Anthony Hopkins during a summer acting program in Great Britain.
The next step, Zadina said, was to spend time with each of the many characters he plays. Each must become so familiar - who he is, where he is, what he wants - that the scene becomes second, or 32nd, nature.
"Then it's just a matter of remembering what happens next," he said.
No small task. For the two weeks before opening night, Lawler has Zadina performing the whole show in order, twice a day. That's different from a multicharacter show, where rehearsals often focus on individual scenes until the final few days.
But in a one-man show, Lawler said, it's essential for the actor to feel the entire arc of the show, to get extra familiar with how those scenes flow.
Along with the physical and psychological, "I Am My Own Wife" presents emotional challenges as well. Switches between characters - and moods - come very fast.
"You have to memorize not only lines but physical cues," Lawler said. "They have to activate in him instantaneously to bring him into that character."
That could mean tightening a muscle, imagining a dark cloud filling your chest or internalizing a piece of music.
It's no accident all the characters are played by one actor, Lawler said. The play is all about finding and defining one's identity.
"Who defines it: you, society, or a combination of both?" he asked.
"Is the truth what we see, or what we feel?" Zadina added.
Lawler calls "I Am My Own Wife" a deep and thorough exploration of identity, compassion, cruelty.
If he and Zadina do their jobs right, he said, audience members will walk out of the theater examining all those things within themselves.
Published Saturday | March 10, 2007
Review: SNAP's 'My Own Wife' a triumph for Zadina
BY BOB FISCHBACH
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
Serious theater fans, get your tickets now. "I Am My Own Wife," which opened Friday at SNAP/Shelterbelt, is going to sell out quickly on the strength of Nick Zadina's astonishing one-man tour de force.
The funny, poignant and deeply moving show easily ranks with Omaha's finest locally produced evenings of theater. Doug Wright's Pulitzer-winning script based on a true story, Zadina's acting, Kevin Lawler's direction and Bill Van Deest's set design all rate superlatives.
As audience members exit, they will run smack into an enlarged photo of the play's central character. There, at the Berlin zoo, sits 10-year-old Lothar Berfelde, with a wild-eyed lion cub perched on each side.
The symbolism is clear. Berfelde soon became Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a transvestite and antiques curator who managed to survive two of the most oppressive regimes of the century - Hitler's Nazis and the East German Communists - and receive a national medal for cultural preservation. And all the while he wore a skirt, pearls and high heels.
Wright based his script on a series of interviews with von Mahlsdorf in 1993. Although her life story is stunning on its own, Wright frames it with a killer theatrical device. Zadina plays not only von Mahlsdorf but also interviewer Wright and about 40 more characters, switching voices, mannerisms, accents and emotions on a dime.
As magazine journalist John, who introduces Wright to von Mahlsdorf, Zadina draws howls speaking German with a thick Houston accent.
As von Mahlsdorf's abusive Nazi father, he evokes fear and loathing.
As her lesbian aunt, granting dispensation for difference, he taps a well of understanding.
As Albert, a close friend imprisoned by the East Germans, he's a gravelly voiced, crooked old man.
In a flash, he becomes a phalanx of accented international press interviewing Charlotte - French, British, Japanese and, hilariously, German TV talk host Ziggy pumping "tranny granny" for tidbits.
But it's as Charlotte that Zadina captures the audience's heart with a sly smile and a thick German accent in soft, measured rhythms. All the while, emotions float across Zadina's expressive face as effortlessly as passing clouds. In movement and speech, a precision is employed not as artifice but as a way to get to the core of the complex character.
Built up as a media heroine, she soon is torn down with accusations that she was an informer for the Stasi, East Germany's secret police.
The truth lies in the heart of the beholder, as the audience is left to ponder issues of identity, personal courage, human cruelty and compassion.
Van Deest's set is the best this reviewer has seen at the Shelterbelt, with hardwood floor, stone-corner detailing, a lighted transom over the double-door entrance and a black rear wall that lighting makes sheer, revealing Charlotte's basement treasures.
Nancy Ross' antique furniture, Molly Welsh's sound design and Homero Vila's lighting also rate superlatives, as do Paul Pape's miniatures that stand in for museum pieces.
Everything about this show is a notch above. But Zadina and Lawler get most of the credit. For both, "I Am My Own Wife" is a personal triumph.
Published Wednesday | March 7, 2007
Omaha designer's miniature props hit it big
BY BOB FISCHBACH
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
Paul Pape's link to the heights of New York theater started small, with talent and timing.
Occupation: Freelance designer of everything from Web sites to theater scenery.
Family: His wife, Lindsay, a Creighton University theater faculty member, is expecting their first child. Parents, Dave and Gidget of Valley, Neb., brothers Josh and Ben of Omaha.
Education: 1994 graduate of Northwest High; bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha; master of fine arts from the University of California San Diego.
Web site: www.paulpapedesigns.com, where he keeps a blog titled Nougats.
Second claim to fame: Designed the set for pop singer Alicia Keys' national "My Diary" tour.
This week the Omaha native's claim to fame is coming home.
As a graduate student in California in 2002, Pape snagged the job of production designer for the original workshop version of Doug Wright's play "I Am My Own Wife."
The play went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and the best-play Tony Award in 2004.
Pape created miniature furniture pieces used as props in the show. Wright asked to use them again when the one-man show opened in New York.
Pape, 31, never saw the New York production, but he was credited in the program - a credit that will be a permanent line on his résumé, he said.
It hasn't been bad for business, either.
A second set of Pape's miniature furniture has been in constant use all over the country this past year, as regional theaters stage Wright's play.
The furniture has returned to Pape's hometown this week for Friday's opening of "I Am My Own Wife" at the SNAP/Shelterbelt Theatre, 3225 California St.
This month, Pape is creating a third set to meet demand.
"Ironically, the original script didn't call for the little furniture pieces," Pape said in a phone interview last week. Cardboard cutouts were envisioned instead.
In his final semester of work for his master of fine arts degree at the University of California-San Diego, Pape got the design job at the La Jolla (Calif.) Playhouse, where "I Am My Own Wife" was first staged.
Pape offered to create the wooden miniatures, which cost about $700 in materials and took about 21/2 weeks to make. He used a miniature lathe to fashion tiny wooden spindles, did extensive hand-carving and sculpted a bust of a German emperor, another needed prop.
The props set rents for $50 a week, typically $200 for a four-week run of the show.
The furniture, called Gruenderzeit, is an important part of the play, which tells the true story of transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (born Lothar Berfelde), who survived the Nazis, then the East German communists and the fall of the Berlin Wall as an up-front gay man in a dress.
Von Mahlsdorf saw that the Nazis were ransacking homes and destroying the ornate, clunky 19th century furniture that was unique to Germany and made for only a 30-year period.
So she hoarded pieces of it in her basement. Years later, she opened a museum for the furniture and won a national award for preserving a slice of German culture that otherwise would have been lost.
Furniture is Charlotte's passion. In the play, she gives us a tour of her museum, showing off miniatures of a sideboard, a clock, a cupboard, an old cherry pitter, the bust and a phonograph.
The same actor Pape worked with in La Jolla, Jefferson Mays, later won the best-actor Tony for the show.
Pape said Wright was a dream to work with on the original workshop production, describing him as a fun, happy, nice guy.
"He cares a lot about his writing but also about actors and designers," Pape said. "I've worked 15 years in the theater, and I can count on one hand the times I've had that kind of respect and collaboration. When you do, you get a good result.
"It's something that will always stick with me."
Published Thursday | March 15, 2007
Review:Ich Bin Meine Eigene Frau
‘I Am My Own Wife’ at SNAP!
By David Williams
OMAHA CITY WEEKLY
“She doesn’t run a museum, she is one!” proclaims playwright Doug Wright as he describes the object of his rather curious field study; the person he calls “the singularly most eccentric individual the Cold War has ever birthed.”
The author’s own voice is merely one of 42 characters that come to life in the SNAP! Productions one-man show “I Am My Own Wife,” now playing at the Shelterbelt Theatre.
The “eccentric individual” in question is Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (nee Lothar Berfelde), the most celebrated transvestite in the annals of German history. Dressing as a woman since the tender age of 16, von Mahlsdorf evaded not only the pogroms of Nazi Germany, the long arm of the dreaded Stasi secret police of Eastern Bloc Berlin and, after re-unification, the rampages of the resurgent Neo-Nazi skinheads, but did so with a panache and aplomb that later led to her being awarded Germany’s highest civilian honor for her contributions in saving not only a treasure of Grunderzeit antiques, but also the all but lost “queerilicious” culture of a former, forbidden Deutschland.
Speaking of panache and aplomb, Nick Zadina is simply “wunderbar” as he navigates the wildly disparate cast of characters in a tale that spans much of the 20th Century.
Homero Vela’s clever lighting design is instrumental in setting up the morphing between characters as Zadina practically melts from one guise to another as if he were some otherworldly, Sprockets-accented shape-shifter in a B-Movie on the Sci-Fi Channel.
Just watch as Zadina subtly widens his eyes, constricts his mouth and stiffens his spine as though it were all some nuance-laden wink that we are about to hear still more from the delightfully witty, gender-bending museum curator and collector of the lost esoterica of an empire that failed to become Hitler’s predicted 1,000-year Reich.
Wardrobe artist Nancy Ross has created a proletarian, yet oddly elegant costume that is reminiscent of the one used in the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway original. The peasant smock, orthopedic shoes and head wrap, all in black, are punctuated by a simple strand of pearls that seem to scream “yes, I may look the very epitome of prim and proper, but if you only knew…”
Add to all this the superb directorial flourish of veteran Kevin Lawler and we find ourselves on a collision course with yet another award-worthy product from that stellar stalwart of the stage known as SNAP! Productions.
Nick Zadina’s bravura blitzkrieg of a performance in the retelling of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf’s idiosyncratic “Weltanschauung,” or world-view, is a compelling testimony to the search for identity, the power of dreams and the courage to carry them out.
“I Am My Own Wife” is a simply stunning piece of documentary-style “theatrical journalism” and is not to be missed by any of you who consider yourselves to be serious bloodhounds of Broadway.
The Reader - Cold Cream - 08 Mar 2007
...How often does a single actor carry the entire burden of a Tony-winning, Pulitzer Prize drama? Omaha will find out how Nick Zadina handles that load when I Am My Own Wife opens at the SNAP/Shelterbelt Theatre Friday, March 9.
He has the experienced guiding hand of director Kevin Lawler, who proved he could do a solo role as Thom Pain at the Blue Barn. Zadina, however, not only plays the title’s German transvestite, but playwright Doug Wright and another three-dozen characters in the 100-minute play.
But it starts with “a lot of homework,” Zadina says. “I recorded it all on a mini-cassette and listened to it 20 hours a day, even when it was just in the background.” That worked as long as he was perfect on the recording.
“I would mess up on a few words and learn it wrong. Then it’s hard to break bad habits.”
So he how does he make clear the shifts from character to character? Through everything from voice and body posture to lighting. Yes, it’s a big challenge, he admits, “but it’s a great opportunity.” See next week’s Reader for a full report.
— Warren Francke
Zadina’s Tour De Force
REVIEW: SNAP! proves a one-person show takes great teamwork
by Steve Eskew
22 Mar 2007
Sensing that survival in a fascist federation would require wit, fortitude and a strong sense of identity, transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf cultivated those invaluable qualities in spades. Born Lothar Berfelde in 1928, the East German cross-dresser endured considerable adversity with both the Nazi and the Communist regimes to become the worthy subject of Doug Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, I Am My Own Wife.
Intrigued by von Mahlsdorf‘s unique history, Wright interviewed her during the early 1990s, subsequently developing this slightly fictionalized theatrical gem comprised of some three-dozen characters — all performed by one person. Minor deviations from pure fact are rightly rationalized by Wright’s creative use of dramatic license. Revering von Mahlsdorf’s integrity without romanticizing her struggles, Wright’s rich storytelling techniques illuminate an unlikely hero, a self-effacing transvestite who, with a knowing twinkle in her eye, identifies herself as a lesbian.
Von Mahlsdorf had devoted much of her life to collecting early phonographs, vintage music and countless other historical artifacts, and founded a museum to preserve a time she felt was disappearing forever. She steadfastly refused to restore the items to their original appearance because she preferred “to preserve their scars as a truer account of their history.” Wright’s fascination with the museum soon was surpassed by his even greater allure to her life story, quickly convincing himself that von Mahlsdorf was far more than the mere proprietor of a museum: “she is herself a museum.”
Before maturing into his Charlotte Mahlsdorf persona, the adolescent Lothar Berfelde’s horrific history had included his own near-execution as an army deserter and his imprisonment after being forced to kill his abusive father. Eventually, young Lothar discovered his true identity and Charlotte emerged as a dignified but electrifying personality. By the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, this charming eccentric had achieved celebrity status, growing vulnerable to the negative hullabaloo that fame can ascribe.
During its final week of rehearsals, I attended a run-through of the SNAP! Production, and chatted with she show’s sole performer, Nick Zadina, and former Omahan Kevin Lawler, who’d returned from New York City to direct the show. We discussed their attraction to this unusual project.
“I’m deeply drawn to such issues as gender reassignment and transvestitism because much of my work deals with the study of humanity, identity and personality. These aspects of human behavior have always captivated me,” Lawler said. “What’s mesmerizing about [Mahlsdorf’s] life story is in realizing the effect that an outsider can have on [a society] and vice versa. Great change arises from people who deviate from the established roads of thought, feeling and behavior. This is why Charlotte’s story enthralls some and repulses others.”
Zadina loved the play but never expected to get the part. “I only auditioned because of my admiration for the producer, Jennifer Gilg, who persisted to get me to audition,” Zadina said. “And, of course, Kevin and I had worked together a couple of times before and I loved the idea of being directed by the best. Thank God I did get the part because it’s culminated into an incredible journey as an artist.”
The journey involved lots of prepping that included numerous long-distance discussions with Lawler during the months preceding the rehearsals, plus the added tasks of mastering a variety of accents, including a New York brogue and a Texan drawl, along with Japanese, Indian and various European dialects, especially German. Zadina credits Lawler and Susan Baer-Collins as dialect coaches. “Susie made tapes and worked hard with me on these complex dialects,” he said. “She’s been a real blessing for this play.”
Preview night showcased incomparable entertainment on multiple levels, an exciting collaboration among Zadina, Lawler and a talented array of designers and technical staff, all worthy practitioners who aren’t afraid to engage in real thinking.
Zadina performs a veritable kaleidoscope of flesh-and-blood characterizations with forceful honesty, effortlessly but meticulously articulating his characters’ diverse external and internal rhythms. His rapid-fire transitions clearly classify him as a master of versatility. His interpretation of Mahlsdorf reveals an androgynous, courageous, complicated and thoroughly authentic human phenomenon whose celebrated life demonstrates that gender bending doesn’t preclude one from developing a deep sense of humanity.
Following the knockout performance, a truly elegant surprise awaits the spectators in the lobby, a revelation moving many audience members to tears on preview night. It shall not be revealed here so as not to blemish its impact, but be assured that it reigns as a ideal addendum to a supreme evening of story-showing, a stunning substantiation of the play’s astonishing truth.
I Am My Own Wife runs through April 1, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. at SNAP!/Shelterbelt, 3225 California St. Admission is $15; $12 for students and senior citizens. For reservations, call 341.2757 or visit snapproductions.com.
22 Mar 2007