On a trip to Berlin-Mahlsdorf in the years following the fall of the Berlin Wall, American playwright Doug Wright found the Gründerzeit Museum, a museum of furniture, gramophones, and records: everyday items which can seem insignificant, but truly capture history.
Wright was taken by the collection, but in particular the woman who ran it. Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. Mahlsdorf, born Lothar Berfelde in 1928, began living as a woman post the fall of the Third Reich, and her museum became known as a safe space in East Berlin’s gay circles. By the time Wright met her, she had lead an almost unbelievable life.
From recorded conversations with Mahlsdorf, news reports, and official files, Wright built up a verbatim theatre piece, with one actor playing all of the roles. Most of the show is filtered through Wright or Mahlsdorf, but through Mahlsdorf’s memories the play brings to life her family, friends, members of the SS and later the Stasi, to build up a portrait of this woman, her time as a transgender person through such turbulent times in Germany, and her museum.
In this production, actor Charles Mayer takes to the stage, directed by Craig Behenna. The small stage (framed by what is truly a remarkably and distractingly bad paint job where the black framing the stage reaches the off-white surrounding the seating bank) is sparsely but carefully adorned: a few pieces of furniture that would fit at home amongst Mahlsdorf’s collection, and strings of light bulbs bring a warmth to the space.