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On two Tampa stages, new plays focus on identity struggles

Bill DeYoung



RP McLaughlin plays Charlotte von Mahlsdorf in Stageworks' "I Am My Own Wife." Photo provided.

New plays on two of Tampa’s professional stages probe issues of gender, identity, equality – and survival. One is a serious drama, the other a dark comedy. Both are designed to make the audience question the accepted way of things, and maybe squirm just a little.

Actor Ryan-Patrick (RP) McLaughlin stars in the new Stageworks Theatre production, Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife, opening Friday and running through Feb. 25 at 1120 East Kennedy Blvd.

Wright’s one-person show won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2004, and took the Tony for Best Play, as well as the top Drama Desk, Drama League and Lucille Lortel awards.

It is the story of German transgender woman Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, born (as Lothar Berfelde) in 1928 Berlin. As a child she murdered her own father, a fanatical Nazi, and was released from juvenile prison when the Soviets liberated the city in the closing moments of World War II.

Charlotte von Mahlsdorf founded the Gründerzeit Museum, collecting clocks, furniture and other utilitarian antiques from the period of rapid economic expansion that followed the foundation of the German Empire – roughly 1871 to 1900.

She became a familiar and controversial figure in Communist-controlled East Berlin’s gay community.

Wright (also the author of Quills) wrote I Am My Own Wife from many hours of interviews he conducted with von Mahlsdorf, who died in 2002.

One actor – in this case, RP McLaughlin – plays dozens of characters, including von Mahlsdorf and the playwright himself.

Wright will participate in an audience Q&A following the matinee this Sunday, Feb. 11.

For all details, and tickets, visit the Stageworks website here.

At Tampa Rep

Clockwise from left Jim Sorensen, Christopher Marshall and James Putnam ponder what it means to be “Straight White Men” at Tampa Repertory Theatre. Image: Ashley Emrick Photography.

In its 2014 review of Young Jean Lee’s dark comedy Straight White Men, the New York Times called the script “mournful and inquisitive.” Four years later, it became the first play by an Asian American woman to be produced on Broadway. In that review, a different Times critic called it “smart and thorny.”

Apparently, it’s all of the above. Straight White Men follows three middle-aged brothers who gather at the home of their widower father at Christmas.

They are all, indeed, straight white men – “For so long simply the default humans,” the Times said, “they now face all the indignities of life with a label.”

The Tampa Repertory Theatre opened its production of Straight White Men last week at the USF Theatre Centre, 3837 USF Holly Dr. in Tampa, where it will remain onstage through Feb. 18.

While at home with Dad, the young men are forced to confront their lifelong sense of identity and privilege, directed from the sidelines by three omnipresent women, the “Persons in Charge.”

Lee often researches, workshops and explores themes of identity in her work. “I realized the hardest thing for me to do would be straight white men identity,” she says in an online interview clip, “because that’s not something that gets analyzed to death.

“For so many years, it was just like the default human position. And then everybody else had an identity. But straight white men were just people.”

For all details, and tickets, visit Tampa Rep’s website here.

















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