Pulitzer-Winning Play Examines Controversial Transgender Pioneer

Bozeman Actors Theatre and Verge Theater Will Present “I Am My Own Wife” in February for the first time in Bozeman.

BOZEMAN, Mont., Jan. 2, 2018—Actor Ryan Lawrence Flynn recalls his unease about accepting the lead role in Doug Wright’s “I Am My Own Wife,” premiering at Verge Theater on February 2. That’s because this lead role is the play’s only role, split across dozens of parts.

“At first the idea of doing this play was so intimidating,” Flynn said. “But the more I get into the process and explore these characters, it’s actually become quite exciting to lose myself in this incredible story.”

Flynn, known for his versatility on local stages, has played multiple parts before, most notably in the Verge’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes” live radio theater productions of the past seven years. But “I Am My Own Wife,” a Bozeman Actors Theatre production in collaboration with the Verge, is a challenge on a much grander scale, he said.

Over the two-hour play, Flynn portrays not only the main character, a transgender German woman, but also the American playwright-narrator and his newsman friend with a Texas twang—each of them trading dialogue scene by scene.

Then there are the 32 other minor characters, men and women with a variety of accents, appearing throughout the play.

Though it might seem gimmicky as described, it isn’t, Flynn said. “What hits you from the beginning is not the single actor doing voices, but this powerful story of believing in one’s entire self and identity,” he said.

“I Am My Own Wife,” in fact, received critical acclaim and every major award in theater after its 2003 Broadway premiere, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. In the years since it has captivated audiences in productions around the world, said director Kari Doll.

At the heart of the play’s appeal is a profoundly human story of survival, she said.

The play recounts the life of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, born Lothar Berfelde, who survived a violent childhood in pre-war Germany and the Nazi and Communist regimes in East Berlin as a transgender woman. Through interviews and monologues, Charlotte describes her will to endure and even prosper across decades as a famous Berlin preservationist, but not without great sacrifice. When the reunification of Germany reveals that she may have been a secret police informant, even her most devoted admirers have to reexamine right and wrong in the context of brutal oppression.

Von Mahlsdorf, who died in 2002, remains a controversial figure in Germany today—celebrated by some as a transgender pioneer but vilified by others.

“Knowing how difficult life can be for transgender people in this day and age, I was fascinated by Charlotte’s true-life story,” Doll said. “To me, this is a story of survival against immeasurable odds. It’s complicated. Nothing is black and white. But in the end, Charlotte shows us all how elegant determination can conquer hatred.”

As an actor, Doll worked with Flynn on several “Don’t Close Your Eyes” productions at the Verge, so she immediately thought of him when casting “I Am My Own Wife” last year.

“Ryan was the obvious choice for me,” she said. “I was already familiar with his amazing talents and versatility, and after this show audiences are going to share that sentiment.”

Bozeman Actors Theatre and Verge Theater will present “I Am My Own Wife” by Doug Wright as a 2018 Main Stage production at the Verge, 2304 North 7th Ave. (across from Murdoch’s). Shows run on Fridays and Saturdays between Feb. 2 and Feb. 17, 2018, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $14 in advance at www.vergetheater.com and Cactus Records, or $16 at the door.