In summer 2000, Wright arrived at the Sundance Theater Lab with nothing more than transcripts of his interviews with Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, the transvestite who had survived Nazi and Communist regimes in East Germany. “I had written early drafts of a play with multiple characters,” he recalls. “They were early, clumsy drafts, and I decided to dispense with all of them.”
When the lab asked him how many actors he wanted to help develop his bio play, the playwright took the minimalist approach. “I thought it would be selfish to ask for more than one actor,” says Wright, who worked with director Moises Kaufman at Sundance. So only one they got. “But in rehearsals, Jefferson Mays proved so delightfully fluid, he was the only one we needed. Charlotte had to assume so many identities in order to live her life, it seemed appropriate that one actor adopt a series of guises to tell her story.”
A ritual of sorts, the Theater Lab always concludes with a presentation of the various works in progress. Potential producers are definitely not invited. “If you have only three scenes worth hearing, you can just do three scenes,” says Wright. “Or you can present a whole opera.”
At Sundance, Mays performed the first act of “I Am My Own Wife.” The work went on to be the first one-actor play to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama, in 2004. It also won Tonys that year for Wright and Mays.