After watching this play you can really understand why playwright Doug Wright was obsessed with Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. If she was even half as interesting as the character in the play then the lady led quite a life.
Charlotte von Mahlsdorf was born Lothar Berfelde but by the time she was 16 she was dressing and living her life as a woman. Being an open transvestite was risky stuff for a teenager living in Germany under the Third Reich. Somehow she managed to avoid their wrath and also took a job helping a second-hand goods dealer remove items from the houses of evicted Jews. Charlotte managed to keep some of the articles for herself. This began her lifelong passion for keeping historical items. As World War II went on she was able to collect more and more articles from the Jewish homes.
After the fall of the Third Reich Charlotte continued to collect furniture, records, gramophones, and clocks which she stored in every nook and cranny of the Mahlsdorf Estate. Living in East Germany after the War was not much better for Charlotte as the Communists moved in. When they closed down a Weimar-era cabaret frequented by homosexuals, she was able to get all the furniture, bar, menus and moved it all into her basement. Charlotte's basement became the meeting place for the homosexual community. She became a role model for all gay people. Eventually she had enough to start her own little museum in the 1960s called Grunderzeit Museum in which she conducted tours for a small donation.
There surfaced some controversy about Charlotte later on in her life as she was accused of collaboration with the Nazis and the Russian Stasis. People claimed that was how she was able to get her hands on the antiques. It was never proven nor disproven and she died in 2002 with this cloud of doubt still surrounding her.
The Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning play is a fascinating look into the life of a dynamic woman who despite being on the fringes of society played an important role. She not only preserved history through her collection, but became a role model for the gay community. Like Doug Wright was, we are drawn to this woman/character. She is an exquisite host and a delightful conversationalist. The first part of the play deals with the stories of Charlotte's life and all her adventures. After intermission we delve more into the inconsistencies of her story. What I did like about this was that we are never given the answer. We still wonder if she cooperated with the Nazis or the Stasis. You realize that it doesn't matter if she did; her contribution is not diminished in my eyes. More importantly we want to believe this woman.
Though fairly simple the set was incredible. The stage is a series of joined wooden table and there are different phonographs, gramophones and pieces of furniture on stage. The lighting and sound is also wonderful.
Toronto actor Brett Christopher takes on this huge role and plays the 40-odd characters by himself. The story is told through a series of flashbacks and interviews between Charlotte and Doug Wright. Christopher not only has to play all these characters but he has to do German, Russian, American, British, French, and Indian accents. He moves flawlessly from one to the next in the 100 minutes he was onstage. The play rests on his small shoulders and he shouldered the burden of bringing to life this delightful woman brilliantly. Christopher does a marvelous job and was rewarded with an immediate standing ovation from the packed crowd at the theatre followed by two curtain calls.
The play is running until March 25th and it gives you the opportunity to witness an ignored history (gay) and a human being who is in herself an historical item.