Lifestyle The Arts I Am My Own Wife
I Am My Own Wife
Written by Jan Hallam

In 1928, the world welcomed an extraordinary character into its ranks. Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf, who was born the boy, Lothar Berfelde, to Max Berfelde and Gretchen Gaupp in Berlin-Mahlsdorf, Germany, arrived determined almost instantly to set society mores on their head.

Her father was a high-ranking Nazi who beat his wife and child until the 14-year-old dress-wearing Charlotte struck the back of his head with a kitchen implement (some say rolling pin, others say ladle) killing Max in three blows.

In many ways this is the most conventional part of Charlotte’s life. What is astounding is how this young person, so committed to being the individual she was, withstood the repressions of not only the Nazis but also the Communists who took over East Berlin in 1945.

This fascinating story was taken on by American playwright Doug Wright whose play, I Am My Own Wife, has won a string of awards including the Pulitzer and Tony.

Next month Black Swan State Theatre Company mounts this play, the title of which comes from an intended inscription of a statue of Charlotte. However, her family rejected it.

Brendan Hanson has been preparing the solo show since the beginning of the year, which adds an even greater sense of epic to a production in which he has to portray 36 characters with accents.

But versatility is his middle name! In October 2015, Medical Forum spoke to Brendan on the eve of his turn in another Pulizer Prize winning play, the contemporary opera Next to Normal about a woman revealing her mental unravelling to the world. Last year his seriously perverted portrayal of a leather-class Newt Gringich in Clinton the Musical, bare bottom and all, was literally a sight to behold. And in between he teaches opera students acting and improvisation and works both as director and teacher for WA Opera.

So taking on Charlotte von Mahlsdorf and the 35 other characters that are needed to tell this story should come as no real surprise.

“I consider myself lucky to be an artist who tells amazing stories. If people want to keep working with me to tell incredible stories, it’s as the Chinese say, double lucky,” he said.

“I feel fortunate to have such diversity of my career. To be honest, I have the attention span of a gnat. I need to teach and to act, to sing and to dance and then do a straight play. I love a challenge.”

Brendan admits that I Am My Own Wife is a project he needs to be well-prepared for.

“With 80 pages and 36 characters all with accents, it has been a huge amount of work and it would have been impossible to pull off with the usual four-week rehearsal period.”

Charlotte, at 14, escaped a firing squad for refusing to join the Hitler Youth. At 16, she was imprisoned for killing her father, but only after several months locked up in a mental institution. When she was freed at the Liberation of Berlin, she began her life as a woman, constructing a life while the country was reconstructed all around her.

So what effect has 36 characters floating around in his head have on Brendan Hanson’s life?

“I feel flexible! I spend so much time in the minds of so many people who are all so different – from her brutal father to gentler others. It’s really wild to develop that kind of mercurial energy. As an actor I’m used to inhabiting the clothes of just one character and learn to live with them, but this is different. In this instance I’m finding a lot of qualities in myself rather than finding myself fully immersed into others’ lives.”

“While it has been a long and protracted process, it has also been absolutely fascinating. I will be really interested to see and feel its effect on an audience.”