REVIEW: I Am My Own Wife (Boho Theatre)

Peter Robel shows grace & poise in this exquisite one-man show

my-own-wife

Boho Theatre presents:

I Am My Own Wife

 

By Doug Wright
Co-Directed by Peter Marston Sullivan and Stephen M Genovese
Thru February 13th (ticket info)

Review by Aggie Hewitt

Watching a one-man show is as terrifying as watching Philippe Petit walk on a high wire between the Twin Towers. At any moment he can come crashing down, flailing and unstoppable, leaving the audience with a bloody mess that they never asked for. When someone chooses that kind of undertaking, they make an oath to their audience. They say, “I promise not to fall. I promise you I can do this.” A one-man show is dangerous. Not in an artsy way, where it’s so provocative that it’s very existence is dangerous, it’s dangerous because it can be so embarrassing. The actor has nothing to hide behind. Even with a spectacularly written show, like Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife is, no amount of great writing is going to stop an actor from becoming Tobias Funke if he derails mid-performance. Sometimes people go to the theater for a grown-up version of a rollercoaster: with every rise and fall of the actors ability one can feel their body tense with the fear of witnessing something truly shameful. That doesn’t happen at Boho Theatre, where Peter Robel, playing all the 35+ characters makes it all the way across the high wire, with such grace and poise that you will forget to be scared at all.

wife I Am My Own Wife was originally created by Doug Wright, with developmental help from Moises Kaufman and the actor Jefferson Mays. It explores the life of German transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf as she survived both the Nazi and Communist regimes, and Doug Wright’s obsession with her. The play has that lovely, sad bookishness of a Moises Kaufman play, and his presence is felt in the narrative. The scenes taken from real transcripts of interviews between Doug and Charlotte have a documentary feel to them, a feeling that is almost academic. It’s Doug Wright’s love of learning about Charlotte, and not his love of Charlotte herself that makes this play an intellectual treat. The more you learn about Charlotte, the more you want to fact check yourself, to learn everything possible about this enigmatic character. When the lights come up at the end of the second act, the only thing you know for sure about Charlotte is that you want to learn more about her. What better way for a biographical piece to end?

All of this great writing would fall flat however if it were not being presented by a great actor. With something as audacious as a one-man show, the last thing you’d expect an actor to do is to take back seat to the story, but that is exactly what Peter Robel does in this performance. During the course of what must be an exhausting show, Peter Robel never once stops to let you see him working. His acting textbook pure; it’s as if Uta Hagen came down from heaven and instructed him in great storytelling. Since I assume she didn’t, a lot of credit probably goes to co-directors Peter Marston Sullivan and Stephen M Genovese.

The play works so well because even though Peter Robel’s performance is as amazing as watching a marathon runner pushing himself past normal human capacity for endurance, each choice that is made ultimately serves the play. The reason that this one-man show isn’t embarrassing is that it’s a great story, told by smart people. Every mind that went into this production, from Doug Wright to John Zuiker, who designed lovely and elegant set was focused on telling a simply and well-crafted story. This is a production that proves that when integrity is in the intentions, wonderful theater can be achieved.

Rating: ★★★★

The Laramie Project Epilogue – My experience

 

Matthew Shepard (Dec 1,1976-Oct 12,1998) , Adam Lederer Matthew Shepard
(Dec 1 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)

An Ingenious New Project:

An International Performance of

The Laramie Project Epilogue

by Barry Eitel

On Monday, October 12th, I witnessed a mixed group of Loyola and Northwestern students perform a staged reading of Tectonic Theatre Project’s newest effort—The Laramie Project Epilogue. The modest audience consisted of faculty and students of both universities as well as a few theatre professionals. In an innovative new take on theatre, however, we were one part of a giant machine. The coolest aspect of the whole evening was the fact that our group of performers and audience were electronically linked to 150 other theatres across the globe. On the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s brutal death in 1998, thousands of people experienced Tectonic’s moving new piece and participated in a live dialogue with the creators and each other, a massive theatrical experiment.

Currently in the vanguard of docu-drama, Tectonic first hit major success early this decade with The Laramie Project. After the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wisconsin, whose killing is widely considered to be a hate crime, Moisés Kaufman and other members of Tectonic descended on the town of Laramie. They conducted loads of interviews investigating the effect the murder and the ensuing national attention had on the town. Tectonic compiled the interviews, news reports, company member’s personal journals, and other sources into the play. Thrusting issues of hate and community onto the stage like never before, The Laramie Project had a huge effect on audiences. It also cemented Tectonic’s rich docu-drama style that would lead to other successes like Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde and the Pulitzer Prize winning I Am My Own Wife.

Flash forward almost a decade. The Laramie Project is now one of the most widely-produced plays in America, appearing in high schools, colleges, and professional theatres. In 2008, ten years after Matthew Shepard’s murder, Kaufman and Tectonic decided to do it all again, re-analyzing Laramie to see what had changed since their first visit. The results of their second visit comprise The Laramie Project Epilogue, which is far more than a cap topping the previous show. It is a complete play in itself. The new information reveals a different community, one that has grown and changed over time like a living organism.

The Tectonic folks discovered whole new topics to discuss and people to interview in their second visit. They learned about revisionist history that had taken hold: many interviewees believed that the killing was a straight robbery gone awry than a hate crime, a theory perpetuated by a 2004 20/20 report. Many company members were surprised to learn that the fence where Shepard was tied up, beaten, and left for dead had been removed. The epilogue exhibits the vibrant gay community now flowering at the University where Shepard attended 10 years earlier. It also showcases the UW faculty’s struggle to get domestic partner rights. And the play includes discussions with two important people who weren’t interviewed for the first Project, Shepard’s two murderers who are now serving multiple life sentences. Tectonic even felt ripples in the town caused by their previous work—an editorial in the town’s newspaper proclaimed that “Laramie is a Community, Not a Project.” All of this new information gives an interesting perspective that builds on what the first Project explored. The prejudices that Tectonic found 10 years later are far more subtle than the Reverend Fred Phelps picketing Shepard’s funeral. The play also has a much wider scope than the first play and focuses much more on Laramie at large, revealing a town conflicted by attempting to move on while trying to remember the past at the same time.

The goliath event pushed this broader scope idea even more. It was almost like a theatrical response to television—people all over the world watching the same thing at the same time. But after the show, everyone watching could participate in a group discussion. Through Twitter and a live feed, people all over were able to express their feelings and responses, from Midwest high school students to those present at the New York premier. A panel, including Kaufman and Shepard’s mother Judy Shepard, answered a few questions and told their experiences writing the piece. From all the audience responses, it was clear that the mass reading had a profound effect on everyone involved. The giant community Tectonic assembled was definitely the most exciting characteristic of the night. The experiment of forming a world-wide theatre for a few hours was a solid success.

 

Judy Shepard at press-conference after President Obama signs Hate Crimes bill.