By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
To tell more would be to give away too many of Rocky Horror (Puppet) Show's surprises, which come fast and furiously. "Just like Brad!" as Statler and Waldorf might say.
Wife is a strange strudel of a play. It's about this real person, a man who lived his life as a woman in East Germany. Wright discovered the elderly Charlotte (who preferred to be thought of as female) in the early 1990s on a tour of her 23-room house, which she called a "museum" and in which she displayed antique furniture, clocks, Victrolas and other items dating back to the 1890s. Fascinated, Wright made repeated trips to Charlotte's home, gathering hours of interviews about her life and the life of other gays in wartime Germany. He turned the anecdotes into the two-act play.
Wright makes himself a character in Wife, and while there's really no plot, much of it deals with what the writer found out about Charlotte that is at odds with her own memories, like how she ratted out an antique dealer friend to the East German secret police, for whom she was a regular spy. "I'm curating her now," the Wright "voice" says in the play, "and I don't have the faintest idea what to edit and what to preserve."
And that is a central problem with Wife. Some of the stories Charlotte tells are fascinating; others, ho-hum. Charlotte is no Anne Frank. She's kind of a prickly old bird, not a noble heroine. And if we don't like Charlotte and don't care what happens to her, there's not much in the play to engage the emotions or provide that uniquely transformative experience of really fine live theater.
Wife is a nice vehicle for showy acting (not to mention a prodigious memory) and actor Damien Atkins is giving it his all. This tall, lanky actor easily morphs in and out of the many accents, silhouettes and moods. But the overall experience of sitting through this play is akin to having someone with a talent for voices read aloud a long feature article from The New Yorker. At the end, you admire the writer's skill and the reader's energy, but you don't feel much of anything about what you've just heard. Wife is a verbal museum piece. Like the characters in Rocky Horror, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf is stuck in a time warp. She just doesn't make you want to get up and dance.