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Working overtime

I Am My Own Wife features a one-person performance of 36 characters

Corey McDaniel as Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. Photo courtesy Harlequin Productions

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The Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning I Am My Own Wife by Doug Wright is a strange and mesmerizing play based on the true-life story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a German transvestite and LGBTQ activist who survived the Nazis, lived through the East German Communist regime, and founded and ran not one but two antiquities museums.

I Am My Own Wife is both a playwriting and an acting tour de force, and it demands riveting attention on the part of the audience. If you allow your attention to wander for a moment, you might suddenly no longer know who is who and where you are in the story because Seattle-based actor Corey McDaniel plays every one of the 36 characters in the story, including the playwright, who inserts himself into the play at various times to tell the audience how he went to Germany and met with von Mahlsdorf to learn her story.

McDaniel has acted and directed in major theaters all over the world. He is founder and Producing Artistic Director of Seattle's Theatre22, and has performed in such places as the Hollywood Bowl, New York's Metropolitan Opera House, Theatro Sistina in Rome, and Seattle Public Theater. In this production, he plays the part of men and women at various ages and in various times -- an incredible acting feat. He not only changes characters continuously, he switches from narrating the story to acting it out and back again. It is a dizzying performance.

The set is Mahlsdorf's Gründerzeit Museum, which is ingeniously recreated by scenic designer Bruce Haasl. Downstage is mostly empty except for a table and chair, while the backdrop is a large, dark brown wall of shelves and compartments filled with antique furniture and other objects. There are paintings and photographs, Victrola gramophones, an upright player piano, many lamps, a couch, an old radio cabinet and much more tucked into the compartments. Hanging from the ceiling are many straight-back chairs, lamps and other props, all beautifully lit by Mark Thomason.

Directing for Harlequin is Aaron Lamb, who directed the recent production on August: Osage County and Hedda Gabler, and starred in The Last Five Years and as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

It is a short play, running approximately an hour-and-a-half with a 20-minute intermission. It is probably a good thing it is so short because it is so intense that it would be exhausting if it was longer.

Following the Sunday matinee Feb. 5 there will be a panel discussion with members of area LGBTQ organizations.

Note: In von Mahlsdorf's day, she was referred to as a transvestite, a term that is generally considered outdated today and referred to as, usually, a gay man who dresses as a woman. It is possible that if von Mahlsdorf were alive today she would self-identify as transgender.

I Am My Own Wife, 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through Feb. 10, State Theater, 202 4th Ave. E., Olympia, $34, senior/military $31, student/youth $20, 360.786.0151,

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