Out Front Theatre Company makes history this week with its production of Doug Wright’s award-winning play “I Am My Own Wife.” It stars Peter Smith, the first trans performer to ever tackle the central role.
The one-person show deals with Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a real-life German trans woman who owned a museum and was committed to living an authentic life – and also managed to survive the Nazi era and the East German Communist regime as well. One performer takes us through von Mahlsdorf’s entire life and all the characters that were part of it. In all, there are 35 roles.
Smith, a New York-based actor, saw the original production on Broadway and relishes the opportunity, although it’s not an easy task. “The challenge is the same work as any other play, just multiplied by 35. The only difference is that my time in the rehearsal process isn’t multiplied by 35,” Smith said.
He finds that a lot of people don’t know the fascinating story of von Mahlsdorf. “Her story isn’t really known. It’s nuanced. The way she navigated her life and survived – she did what she felt she had to do,” he said. “For people in the US, this play is their entry to her. I am so excited about doing this because I want to tell people about her.”
Smith, who’s also a comedian, is indebted to Out Front for giving him the opportunity to be the first trans performer in a professional production of the drama – and their passion in producing it. His trust in director Graham Miller has allowed him to feel comfortable exploring the role.
At Serenbe Playhouse, openly gay Brian Clowdus is about to open a production of the musical “Shenandoah,” the story of one family’s hardship living in the Shenandoah Valley during the American Civil War. This production has some star value behind it – “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks headlines the cast as Charlie Anderson. Hicks’ agent had been pitching ideas for roles for TV, film and some theater the past few years and this one felt right.
“There was something about Brian’s visionary ideas and the storyline and the music, and the setting, that fit,” Hicks said, describing the role as perfect for him. “Charlie is a pretty complex individual and I think what is beautiful is you are able to see all the sides of him. He is a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky musician and father figure who uses those attributes to quell being able to hold a family together in one of the most difficult time periods in U.S. history.” For his part, Clowdus was looking for someone with a “singer feel” and a homespun flavor to boot. Hicks fit both.
“Shenandoah” is not a production that is staged regularly and Clowdus has his thoughts on why. “I think the Civil War is something that is difficult to talk about,” he says. “You don’t see a lot of plays or musicals produced about it. This musical is something that people are afraid to touch. Logistically it’s a hard show to cast as well because not only do you have the Anderson family you have this huge ensemble, which is hard to produce. But I am never afraid. I like to talk about things that are difficult.”
Hicks admits that he’s having to learn the full ropes of acting but he is having a good time and hopes this leads to more theater gigs. The musical also features Rachel Potter of “The X Factor.” Besides recognizable names, “Shenandoah” also features Clowdus’ own patented touches, with an outdoor setting and musicians playing instruments.
“I Am My Own Wife”
Out Front Theatre Company
Through March 30
Through April 7