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Mark Nelson Plays Charlotte & Many More

By Gary Wien

When you first start out as a writer, people sometimes give you a bit of advice based on their own experiences - don't get too close to your idols because you might not like what you see. Those words came to mind as I read about the journey playwright Doug Wright embarked on while creating I Am My Own Wife.

In the beginning, Wright wanted to create a glowing tribute to a gay cultural icon, but as he learned more and more about his subject, he realized that there was far more to the story. So much so that the idea of the writer seeking the truth became not only a character in the play but one of the central themes of the play itself.

"I think that's what the whole play is about," said Mark Nelson, the actor who stars in George Street Playhouse's production of I Am My Own Wife running January 16th through February 11th. "That's the heart of the play - an idol with feet of clay. It's the idea that we want our heroes to be flawless and that's a beautiful thing, but the reality of a flawed human being is an even more beautiful thing. It's the idea of somebody who struggled with their own limitations and their own sins and still managed to live a remarkable life."

I Am My Own Wife tells the fictionalized tale of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (born Lothar Berfelde), a German transvestite who survived both the Nazis and the Communist regimes in East Germany. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Tony Award for Best Play as well as Drama Desk, Lucille Lortel, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League awards. Wright met with and interviewed von Mahlsdorf over a period of months between 1992 and 1994, using that and letters and items from the public record to craft the play. As the playwright dug deeper and deeper into the life of Charlotte, he discovered things which were so different from what he expected that he stopped writing the play for six years before picking it up again.

"I've had that experience in the theatre many times with my heroes," said Nelson. "From a mature perspective, when you look back you can admire those people who had to struggle with real demons."

Demons are certainly something Charlotte von Mahlsdorf struggled with. She is thought of largely as a hero to the gay community for her willingness to stay true to her identity even in face of dire times and facsist regimes.

"We'll never figure out whether she made moral compromises to survive," added Nelson. "But whatever the truth is it's the achievement of hanging on to this unique, quirky, fabulous identity in the middle of a world that was trying to hammer it out of her, which is extraordinary. It's a story for everybody who wants to be an individual - not just gay people.

"The mystery of it is a big part of what Doug's trying to write about. It's the idea that no one can be completely known by another person; that there are always secrets and mysteries and that you shouldn't even try to figure them out. It's also about the question of history. Who gets discarded and left out of history, who gets to write the history, and whose point of view does the history represent?"

The idea of history relates well to the play as Charlotte was very much involved in saving history. After the fall of the Nazis, she began collecting household items, saving every-day items from bombed-out houses. She was also able to take advantage of the clearance of the households of people who left for West Germany. Her collection evolved into the GrŁnderzeit Museum (a museum of every-day items) in Berlin-Mahlsdorf. In a way, it's kind of like preserving history the way Andy Warhol would have.

"It's a beautiful metaphor for salvaging the junk heap of history and rescuing the things that history wants us to forget and holding them up for everyone to see," said Nelson.

The play seems to tackle many different issues, but that's nothing compared to the amount of characters that Mark Nelson has to tackle during the performance. He works his way through over 35 different characters - It's a one-man play only because he's the only physical person on the stage. Through the magic of theatre, you see not only Charlotte but friends, relatives and even the playwright himself on stage.

Originally Nelson wasn't even planning on acting in this play. He was scheduled to direct the play at the Cleveland Playhouse, but the initial search for a leading actor failed. He had offered the role to about 20 of his favorite actors, but everyone seemed to either be unavailable, un-interested, or flat out scared to take on the daunting role. The search soon reached the point where they were going to have to audition people Nelson didn't know, so with a little push from Michael Bloom (the theatre's artistic director) he made a decision to take on the role himself.

"I thought to myself, if I can play this part... why do I want to sit in a room watching somebody else struggle with it unless it's somebody I love? And we were lucky enough to get Anders Cato who had directed me before at the Berkshire Festival to direct and it turned into a great journey."

Cato will be directing Nelson again as he brings Charlotte to the George Street Playhouse. While the initial preparation for the role was enormous (Nelson said he spent six weeks by himself just working on the lines and trying to figure out the various voices), Nelson thinks that having a little time off has helped him further develop the characters.

"My connection to the play is richer now than it was the first time coming to it," he said. "It's part of my history. I didn't even look at the play or think about it for 10 months, but, at the same time, my brain was percolating on everything that I hadn't resolved or figured out for myself. Things are coming now that never came to me before."

Nelson is returning to George Street Playhouse after several years. He previously directed The Seagull and acted in Talley's Folly at George Street. The Princeton University alum, has appeared on Broadway in After The Fall, The Invention Of Love, Three Sisters, A Few Good Men, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Broadway Bound, Rumors, and Amadeus. He received an Obie Award for Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile and the 2006 Connecticut Critics Circle Award for Underneath the Lintel at Long Wharf Theatre.

Coming back to George Street is special for Nelson as he and David Saint (George Street Playhouse's Artistic Director) were classmates in Uta Hagen's acting class in 1980. In fact, his first scene for her was a scene that involved David.

"There are few places where I've landed in my various wandering career that feel like home and this is one of them."

For more by this author, click here

Center Players Presents "The Emperor's New Duds"
(FREEHOLD, NJ) --¬† Center Players Dessert Theater will present a family-friendly production of ‚ÄúThe Emperor‚Äôs New Duds‚ÄĚ at Center Playhouse, 35 South St, in downtown Freehold, NJ from December 7 ‚Äď 16.¬†A musical adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson‚Äôs the ‚ÄúEmperor‚Äôs New Clothes,‚ÄĚ the play was written by Bernice Garfield-Szita, who co-directed the production with Enid Bush.
Centenary Stage’s Young Performers Workshop presents 2018 Winter Festival of Shows
(HACKETTSTOWN, NJ) -- Based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew with music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Godspell is composed of various musical parables from The Gospel. Jesus Christ recruits a group of followers and teaches them various lessons through song and dance. Toward the end of the second act, the show begins to follow a more linear narrative as Jesus is betrayed by Judas and eventually crucified. Performances are Sunday, December 9 at 5:00pm; Saturday, December 15 at 8pm and Sunday, December 16 at 7:30pm.
The Shakespeare Theatre Presents "The Winter's Tale"
(MADISON, NJ) -- The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s concludes its 56th season with its sixth and final Main Stage production, The Winter's Tale. Last seen at The Shakespeare Theatre in 2008, Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte directs this production of Shakespeare’s tragicomedic romance. Veteran company members Jacqueline Antaramian, Jon Barker, Erin Partin, John Keabler, Raphael Nash Thompson,Seamus Mulcahy, Patrick Toon, and Ames Adamson are among a cast of 20 actors. Performances run from December 5 to December 30. 
American Theater Group Announces Full Cast & Creative For "Tell Them I'm Still Young"
(SOUTH ORANGE, NJ) -- American Theater Group has announced the full cast and creative team for its World Premiere production of Tell Them I’m Still Young, a new play by Julia Doolittle, which will run at the South Orange Performing Arts Center from January 24 - February 3, 2019. Joining the previously announced Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Streets, Men of a Certain Age, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) andMichele Pawk (Hollywood Arms, Hairspray, Mamma Mia) are Janice Amaya (Seen/Unseen) and Seth Clayton (The Madrid).
Holmdel Theatre Company Presents 'ART'
(HOLMDEL, NJ)¬†‚Äď The¬†Holmdel Theatre Company¬†(HTC) will present 6 performances of Yasmina Reza‚Äôs¬†‚ÄėART‚Äô¬†¬†from December 7th through December 16th.¬†Translated from French by Christopher Hampton, the play¬†tells the story of what happens when Serge buys an expensive painting, and the reactions of his two closest friends, Marc and Yvan, to his purchase. As what begins as a discussion about the quality of the painting that Serge has purchased quickly devolves into petty jabs and personal attacks, the three men border on destroying their friendships.

Broadway’s Mandy Gonzalez LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
Broadway is in the house at Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center for the Arts with a Fearless live concert performance by Broadway star, Mandy Gonzalez!
"The Spitfire Grill" and Caitlin Geisser Return To Their Roots
‚ÄúI saw something in her that you rarely come across,‚ÄĚ recalled Ted Wioncek III, Artistic Director at¬†Eagle Theatre¬†in Hammonton. ‚ÄúShe‚Äôs more than wise beyond her years; I believe she‚Äôs going to be a game-changer and a trendsetter for this art form.‚ÄĚ
Broadway’s Next H!T Musical LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
It’s Friday, October 26, 2018, and the Broadway’s Next H!T Musical cast is just about ready to take the stage at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts, located on the campus of Ocean County College in Toms River, NJ.
The Last Apple Pie: "Apples In Winter" Opens At Centenary Stage
Jennifer Fawcett’s new play centers around a mother in a kitchen, doing something countless people across America will take part in over the upcoming holiday season: making an apple pie.
See Andrea McArdle LIVE! in Annie at Deal Park’s Axelrod PAC!
Leapin’ Lizards! Annie’s finally made it to the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal Park, NJ, and it stars Broadway’s original Annie, Andrea McArdle, as Miss Hannigan!

Event calendar
Saturday, Nov 17, 2018


THE GAY BLADES @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

HERMAN'S HERMITS STARRING PETER NOONE & THE BUCKINGHAMS @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 8:00pm

Nelson Riveros Trio: ‚ÄúThe Latin Side of Wes Montgomery‚ÄĚ @ Englewood Public Library, Englewood - 7:00pm

Hawaiian Music and Hula @ 1867 Sanctuary at Ewing, Ewing - 8:00pm

Pop 2000 Tour @ iPlay America, Freehold - 7:00pm

THE MACHINE PERFORMS PINK FLOYD @ The Strand Theater, Lakewood - 8:00pm


Todd Barry at SOPAC @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 8:00pm

Swamp Boogie Trio @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm


Annie @ Broad Street United Methodist Church, Burlington - 8:00pm

An Actor's Carol @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 3:00pm and 7:30pm

Annie @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

Apples In Winter @ Centenary Stage Company - Kutz Theater of the Lackland Center, Hackettstown - 8:00pm

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 8:00pm

Billy Bishop Goes to War @ Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, Morristown - 2:00pm

Kiss Me Kate @ Broadway Theatre of Pitman, Pitman - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

Phoenix Productions Presents: The Hunchback of Notre Dame @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 8:00pm

Enchanted April @ The Summit Playhouse, Summit - 8:00pm

Heathers, The Musical High School Edition @ Pebble Players, Oakes Center, Summit - 7:30pm

Junie B. Jones The Musical at Black Box PAC @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 11:00am

Into the Woods @ Studio Playhouse Upper Montclair, Upper Montclair - 8:00pm

The Drowsy Chaperone @ Lauren K. Woods Theatre at Monmouth University, West Long Branch - 8:00pm


Todd Barry at SOPAC @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 8:00pm


BALLET FOLKLORICO DE MEXICO @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm


ROALD DAHL’S WILLY WONKA JR. @ Ridgewood Ave School Theater, Glen Ridge - 1:00pm and 7:00pm


Mainebiz Health Care Forum @ Mainebiz Health Care Forum, Newyork - 8:00pm

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