owen carey

Big-budget shows like those of Portland Center Stage's (PCS) are often a matter of simple mathematics. In the case of I Am My Own Wife: Pulitzer Prize-winning script, plus (arguably) Portland's best actor, plus a dash of top-notch light and sound in a great new space, equals... a near perfect production from start to finish. You'd have to try pretty hard to find fault with Wade McCollum's performance, or director Victor Pappas' handling of the script, and since even I'm not that much of a hater, prepare for me to do the critical equivalent of humping PCS's leg.

I Am My Own Wife tells the story of playwright Doug Wright's attempt to write a play about the controversial German transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. Over the course of several years, Wright interviewed Mahlsdorf about her experiences as an East German transvestite first under the Nazi regime, then later under the Communists. Mahlsdorf strikes Wright as an impossible figure, someone who should never have survived two of the most brutal regimes in human history, whose survival is a testament to hope and the human spirit. Wright's beliefs are called into question, though, when Mahlsdorf is accused of having been a Stasi (East German police) collaborator.

McCollum plays every role in the show, from the meticulous and kindly Mahlsdorf to the American Wright to the Nazi thugs who tormented Mahlsdorf when she was a boy. Dialogue coach Stephanie Gaslin had her work cut out for her; I can't think of any accents McCollum didn't use over the course of this production. It's a testament to McCollum's prodigious talent (and, no doubt, some hard work with Gaslin) that each character is clearly defined, each accent distinct, and the narrative momentum never muddled nor lost.

I don't think there are any bad seats in the Armory's intimate Studio Stage, which means everyone in the house gets to experience McCollum, up close and personal, as he evokes an array of characters by turns frightening, funny, and heartbreaking. It's a memorable experience, both uniquely theatrical and incontrovertibly, fundamentally human.