Home Arts One Actor and Dozens of Characters Take to LNT Stage

One Actor and Dozens of Characters Take to LNT Stage

Stoph Scheer as Charlotte in Lost Nation Theater’s “I Am My Own Wife,” playing April 4–21. Photo by John Snell.
Solo theater is a different creature. For the actor, there’s the added challenge of being the only person on stage, and for the audience, well, there’s only one person on stage.

“I Am My Own Wife,” which begins Lost Nation Theater’s 35th anniversary season and opens on April 4, has only one actor, but as she plays Charlotte, the protagonist, Stoph Scheer takes on so many distinct characters that the audience may forget she’s only one person.

“Stoph is such a chameleon,” director Joanne Greenberg said in a recent interview. “She’s amazing — her physicality and her dialect work. She’s a pro at character transformation. … At any given moment, it feels like there are many characters on stage.”

Written by Doug Wright, the play premiered on Broadway in 2004, winning two Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It is based on the life of Charlotte von Hahlsdorf, an openly trans woman who survived both Nazi and Communist Germany, despite the transphobic and homophobic policies of both those governments.

As Charlotte transforms into several main characters and numerous supporting characters, she may be in Nazi Germany in the 1940s or in Communist Germany in the 1970s.

“Playing multiple characters is all about making very specific choices about my vocal placement, my physical posture, my gestural life,” Scheer said. “In the case of this play, accent and dialect are very important. Many of the characters are from Germany, but two key figures are American, and one is specifically from Texas.”

“She was openly wearing her choice of clothing — women’s clothing — at a time when that was literally illegal, and somehow she was able to do this and be a very public figure,” Scheer said. “She ran a speakeasy that was one of the only safe places for homosexuals and trans people in all of Eastern Germany.”

Scheer said Charlotte was a hero for trans and queer people in her own time and still is today. She said that when the play premiered on Broadway 20 years ago, Charlotte was played by a cis-gender male actor, whereas today she is usually played by a trans woman.

“There’s a lot of politicizing of gender issues and sexual rights and that sort of thing going on in our country that is a frightening parallel to what was happening in Germany,” she said. “We are seeing a counter-reaction to the increasing visibility of trans people in our society.”

Scheer said she is bi-coastal, living both in Los Angeles and various places in the East, including New York and Quebec. She is a regular at Putney’s Sandglass Theater, and she has performed with Lost Nation before, including in “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).”

“I have no doubt that the audience will be oriented moment-to-moment, and she will embody and channel these characters, distinguishing them so there will not be confusion,” Greenberg said. “But there’s some basic and fascinating ambiguity about Charlotte’s story and the reliability or unreliability of her as a narrator.”

Greenberg said the “shroud of enigma” around Charlotte’s story is somewhat like our contemporary issues with trying to pin down facts. There are also questions about ethical choices Charlotte made in order to survive.

Noting that Charlotte was an antiques curator, both Scheer and Greenberg emphasized that she was obsessed with nineteenth century German furniture.

“The set will telegraph to the audience that this is a person who has curated her own identity,” Greenberg said.

The title comes from an anecdote Charlotte tells about her mother asking her when she is going to marry. She responds, “Never, my dear Mutti. Ich bin meine eigene Frau. I am my own wife.”

Set design is by Mark Evancho and sound design is by Eric Love. Cora Fauser is the costumer, and Bill Pelton is the stage manager. Kim Bent is the technical director, and Kathleen Keenan is the producing artistic director.

“I Am My Own Wife” runs at Lost Nation Theater, in Montpelier’s City Hall Auditorium, Thursdays through Sundays, April 4–21. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m. Sunday performances are at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the Montpelier City Clerk’s Office, at lostnationtheater.org, or by phone, 802-229-0492 (Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.). Because the flood made the elevator inoperable, attending in person requires climbing stairs. The play will be streamed to be accessible.