Adelaide Fringe 2013
Charles Mayer is a captivating actor in this one-man, thirty-five character performance. He reveals the story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf who survived the Nazi and Communist regimes, ran the only gay bar in her basement until the Wall came down, and her passion for clocks, old furniture, and men (in that order). It is an intriguing story and a display of thespian talent that proves to be a winning combination.
Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (née Lothar Berfelde) is a living museum, who really shouldn’t have survived the Nazi and Communist regimes, but did. She lived to tell her story—growing up with a ferociously Nazi father; the summer spent with her lesbian aunt who gave Charlotte her blessing and the transgender ‘Bible’; collecting gramophones and polyphones; setting up a lucrative homosexual bar in the basement of her expansive mansion under the noses of the Nazis, and then Stasi police force; and her dear friend Alfred, who fuelled her passion for clocks and old furniture.
Charlotte’s story is revealed by thirty-five characters—some had a significant impact on her life, while others recalled events with apathy and set the scene for the audience. As the story develops and sub-plots emerge more questions are raised than answered and in true theatre fashion the audience is left to make up their own minds about what Charlotte really did and her role during these turbulent years.
Charles Mayer is a phenomenal actor whose talent knows no bounds in this one-man show. He brought to life thirty-five very different characters and slipped into each role smoothly and rapidly by changing his mannerisms and voice. On reflection it is still difficult to believe one man could narrate that many accounts without breaking the audience’s connection, and moving the story along with such ease.
The script is a mixture of interviews and recollections, and present-day reactions to Charlotte’s stories. It holds the audience’s interest throughout and builds the climax of the main story while cleverly weaving in sub-plots. The audience reacted aptly to the little quips and double entendres, and were on the edge of their seats wanting to know more. Some of the larger-than-life characters added humour to the play while maintaining relevance to the story—although there were a significant number of characters for this one-man show the script was incredibly detailed and gave the audience enough time to absorb the story and visualise the scene.
The stage was decorated with only a few significant props, but such was the detail in the narrative that it was easy to visualise the scene. The lighting effectively conveyed the mood and like Mayer’s performance made the transition smoothly. The crackling gramophone and warbling singers used as a soundtrack for most of the play also added to the feel of the time and place.
This Pulitzer and Tony award winning play is completely justified—Mayer’s talent coupled with the intriguing script were an unbeatable fusion that made this show a triumph.