Friday, April 27, 2007

"I Am My Own Wife" - Commendable But

But I thought my socks and white pearls (which ushers handed out) would be knocked off and I would be pressuring all of my readers to rush to Hartford Stage (through May 13) to see this Pulitzer/Tony Award winner; but, I'm not.

I recognize that author Doug Wright is a dynamite researcher, that Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (who lived as a woman even if she was born a man) is intriguing, that James Lecesne is a versatile, splendid actor......and the plot is based upon reality.

Lecesne plays multiple, multiple, multiple roles as he or is it she appears solo on stage for nearly two hours. Most of the time he embodies Charlotte. Also: Doug Wright, various Nazi characters, agents, officers, and so forth.

She loved beautiful, antique furniture -- and gramophones. Kris Stone's staging is imaginative and visionary. The theatergoer feels as if he's looking deep into a tunnel or valley. The eye ventures toward the rear of the large performance space. Charlotte's home is museum-like and glimpses of possessions are just perfect.

von Mahlsdorf survived repressive Nazi and Communist regimes while she lived in East Germany. Wright's play asks Lecesne to take on a variety of accents (flat American, Texas, Germanic, etc.) Lecesne is remarkably adept.

The plot presents questions: Did she spy on or kill anyone? Is von Mahlsdorf (her white pearls) and her story entirely credible? Many more.

Unfortunately, dramatic impact is lacking. Charlotte is fascinating but the play is neither gripping nor compelling. Lescesne is masterful as he develops the protagonist and everyone else but I felt as if I were watching a non-riveting if excellent presentation.

That is frustrating. Why is this so? How can "I Am My Own Wife" be intellectually engaging but monotone in other modes? It is revealing as a history piece, thanks to Wright; and beautifully framed, thanks to Stone's scenographic touches. Marcus Doshi's lighting design is enhancing.

All of that said, "I Am My Own Wife" enriches but does not fully satisfy. Point a finger at Jeremy Cohen, the director? You might try that but Lecesne moves with precision and Cohen, no doubt, was catalytic as he coaxed the actor. Thus, this is a valuable play, but.....
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