Playboy

 

Doug Wright likes his social misfits. With Quills, for example, the playwright adapted his fascinating play about the Marquis de Sade into an equally fine screenplay humanizing the man whose name is synonymous with putting pain on the sexual menu.

Wright’s last project was even more beloved. (It’s tricky loving a sadist.) A pile of transcripts from interviews he conducted with an elderly German transvestite named Charlotte von Mahlsdorf became the play I Am My Own Wife, which won last year’s Tony Award for Best Play and the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Born a male, von Mahlsdorf lived most of her adult life in Germany as the exuberant Charlotte, surviving the period when Nazis found sexual minorities as unpalatable as Jews. Wright admitted to Playbill Online that the love story between the writer and his subject is a crucial ingredient of the play. “Growing up in Texas, I had a lot of ambivalences about my own sexuality, and then I met Charlotte,” Wright told the site last April. “She was unapologetically gay in the face of the Nazis, and I can’t handle a few Southern Baptists! I thought she was a real curative for all the problematic thoughts I had about my own sexual identity.”

As the keynote speaker at Chapter and Verse, a benefit for the Writers Place on Monday, Wright discusses the creation of I Am My Own Wife, and the Unicorn Theatre performs a selection from the play, which opens the theater’s 2005-06 season this fall. Playing Charlotte is Kansas City actor Robert Gibby Brand, who always infuses complicated characters with heart.

“I loved Quills, and I love this play,” says the Unicorn’s Cynthia Levin, who directs both the excerpt and the play. “Wright writes about taboo things no one thinks they want to see. Yet when I read I Am My Own Wife, I was caught up in the story like a great novel. I thought, This is exactly the kind of person we want to illuminate.” — Steve Walker