Arts

Out Front Theatre’s ‘I Am My Own Wife’ Explores The Life Of A Transgender Woman Living During WWII

Peter Smith will portray all 35 characters in Out Front Theatre's newest play "I Am My Own Wife."
Peter Smith will portray all 35 characters in Out Front Theatre's newest play "I Am My Own Wife."
Credit Sandy Honig

Out Front Theatre presents, “I Am My Own Wife,” a Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning play based on the life of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf — a German transgender woman who survived both the Nazi and Communist regimes in East Berlin.

This story is told by New York-based actor, Peter Smith who portrays all 35 characters in the play. The playwright, Doug Wright, based the story off of his conversations with Charlotte before she passed away in 2002. It premiered Off-Broadway in 2003 at Playwrights Horizon.

Charlotte von Mahlsdorf had a very complicated life growing up in Berlin during World War II. After discovering at a young age that she enjoyed dressing up in women’s clothing, her father physically abused her and forced her to join the Hitler Youth. Her father was also the local Nazi leader.

She later formed a bond with her aunt, who was a cross-dresser, and she allowed Charlotte to roam around her farm in ladies attire.

“As queer people, one of the things we struggle with is the isolation of being born into a family or community who does not have a history to identify the way that we identify,” said director Graham Miller.

After the war had ended in Germany, Charlotte founded the Gründerzeit Museum in Berlin-Mahlsdorf. Her collection of artifacts ranged from antique furniture, stoves, grandfather clocks, mirrors, and everyday objects that dated back to the early 1900’s. After the union of the two Germanies, her museum was attacked by neo-Nazis in 1992, the same year her documentary came out.

The manor has since been restored and remains in tact today.

City Light’s host, Lois Reitzes spoke with Smith and director, Graham Miller about this unique performance.

You can see “I Am My Own Wife” at Out Front Theatre starting March 14 at 8 p.m. The play will run through March 30.