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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the July 16, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
New York: `I Am My Own Wife’
Doug Wright, best known for his sardonic Oscar-nominated
screenplay "Quills," about the notorious Marquis de Sade"
(based on his own play), has come up with another eye-opener —
"I Am My Own Wife." Wright has chosen no less a provocateur
and sexual enigma as the subject of his new play "I Am My Own
Wife." Set in Germany during the Nazi years and in the Communist
Years, the play is a riveting account of the life of Charlotte von
Mahlsdorf, a successful antique dealer who not only survived both
regimes, but also became celebrated when she was awarded a Medal of
The fact that she was a transvestite as well as being suspected of
being an informer on her friends and associates certainly offers dramatic
possibilities. Gleaned from taped interviews with the subject, made
by the author, the play takes its principal resonance from one actor
Jefferson Mays, who not only takes the role of the author but also
that of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf and countless other characters that
confirm or deny, question or validate, her collusion. In a performance
that will keep you spellbound, Mays, in a black dress and pearls,
is at first a strange sight, slightly tentative but eager to show
us the collection of antiquities that define her museum-home (evocatively
designed by Derek McLane).
The play also selectively defines von Mahlsdorf’s personal life from
her youth to old age. These include the love of an understanding lesbian
aunt, the rejection by her hateful father and the revenge she takes,
imprisonment, and the myriad of artists and homosexuals who, with
her help, maintained a salon of gay culture in the midst of two regimes
that reviled homosexuality.
Mays’ performance is so artful, subtle, and yet specific, that there
is no confusion as one character, male or female, takes the place
of another. Under the carefully modulated direction of Moises Kaufman
("The Laramie Project"), "I Am My Own Wife" offers
substantial mystery and intense drama, but more excitingly it brings
us the amazing performance of Jefferson Mays. Three stars. You won’t feel cheated.
— Simon Saltzman
Street, New York. Tickets $55; $15 student rush. Call 212-279-4200.
Extended to August 3.
The thing about conceptual artist, director, adapter,
and author Mary Zimmerman is that you don’t have to worry what bizarre,
abstract, complex, remote, or unlikely subject she chooses to inform
and adorn with theatrical imagery, you can be sure it will be an eyeful.
In the case of "The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci," it’s
more like a head-full.
The now hot Chicago-based director, whose version of Ovid’s "Metamorphoses"
met with resounding success in New York, winning her a Tony and confirming
her place as one of America’s most inventive theatrical creators,
has returned with a new production of her earlier work, "The Notebooks
of Leonardo da Vinci."
But whereas "Metamorphoses" had, so to speak, a narrative
drive, as did Homer’s "Odyssey" (seen here at McCarter Theater),
Zimmerman how asks her audience to be entertained by 90 minutes of
intermittently intriguing and rather dangerously choreographed variations
on everything and nothing in particular. These variations are in equal
amounts diverting and boring, curious and taxing, as they have been
designed to compliment selected notations, theories, and sketches
taken from 5,000 pages of da Vinci’s scattershot texts, culled and
cultivated from the 28 surviving volumes. The spoken text is taken
directly from da Vinci’s notations.
While the idea of conjuring of stage pictures to illuminate the breadth
and dimensions of da Vinci’s brilliant mind cannot have been an easy
task; Zimmerman apparently felt very little need to explore anything
beyond the academic.
So don’t expect the kind of sex, romance, adventure, conflict, or
dramatic continuity of "Metamorphoses." That is unless you
spot any in the orgiastic positions that the company of eight often
There is also plenty to look at in the set that designer Scott Bradley
has devised to suggest the well-organized workplace where da Vinci
and his assorted portrayers expound in words and movement on his theories,
facts and figures, paintings, and drawings. The set, a space compact
with floor to ceiling file cabinets and drawers, planks and perches
of different sizes, many capable of being opened and closed to reveal
the mysteries of his investigative studies and pursuits as well as
to give freedom and flight to the magical elements that respond to
his command. The magic comes with the limber company who, in turn,
portray the 15th century genius who embraced, reveled in and interpreted
the arts as well as the sciences with persistence and curiosity.
The eight performers, all exponents of the Zimmerman style, have been
expertly schooled in the art of the contortionist, acrobat, dancer,
and mime, as they climb upon, hang from, and emerge from the openings
and closing of drawers. Others get to animate and postulate upon his
astronomical, anatomical, biological, and philosophical observations.
As might be expected, the performance is framed in something akin
to a dreamscape beginning and ending with a falcon that descends from
a perch and kisses da Vinci on the cheek.
Notwithstanding da Vinci’s expressed jealousy of Michelangelo, as
mused upon by one of the da Vinci surrogates, it stands to reason
that he would see the failure of sculpture to offer the more inclusive
perspective of a painting. The most amusing moment arrives with da
Vinci’s failed attempts to give humans the flight of birds. I hope
he can look to the sky today. The surrogates, however, are at their
most extraordinary demonstrating the relationship between harmony
and proportion. As might be expected, much is made of the anatomy
in fluid and witty demonstrations expressing the 18 positions of man
and the four powers of nature — weight, force, movement, percussion.
Hope you are taking notes.
Less is made of whatever emotions or deeply personal thoughts propelled
da Vinci. If all this sounds a bit cut and dried and more of a study
hall lecture with visual aids than it is a play, it is basically close
to that. True, except that it is being presented through the perceptions
of an imaginative theater artist. Certainly the talented company,
the 15th-century evoking costumes by Mara Blumenfeld, the atmospheric
lighting by TJ Gerckens, and the compelling original music by Miriam
Sturm and Michael Bodeen, help to bring flighty digressions to an
otherwise weighty divertissement. I can’t begin to imagine what Zimmerman
might do with the Yellow Pages of the Telephone Directory. Two stars. Maybe you should have stayed home.
— Simon Saltzman
307 West 43rd Street, New York, 800-766-6048 or 212-246-4422. $55;
student tickets $20; student rush $10, when available, 30 minutes
before curtain. To August
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