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Stageworks production will showcase a transgender woman's 'lived experience' in Nazi Germany

A nonbinary person wearing a long grey dress, headscarf and pearl necklace stands in front of a projected screen that asks are you a boy or a girl?
Stageworks Theatre
RP McLaughlin, a nonbinary actor who splits their time between New York and Tampa, performs the role of Charlotta von Mahlsdorf, a transgender woman who survived the Nazi and community regimes in East Germany.

"I Am My Own Wife" is a Pulitzer Prize-winning play based on the interviews playwright Doug Wright did with Charlotta von Mahlsdorf over the course of several years in the 1990s. It runs at Stageworks through Feb. 25.

 Standing in front of a phonograph, RP McLaughlin practices a monologue during a recent rehearsal of "I Am My Own Wife" at Stageworks Theatre in downtown Tampa.

"Everyone always said they're so old-fashioned. They all wanted radios. What did I want with a radio? To hear Hitler babble? That's why even today I don't own a radio or a television."

 Charlotta von Mahlsdorf was an antiquarian and transgender woman born in 1928. Her complicated life became the focus of a play based on interviews that Doug Wright conducted over a number of years in the 1990s. In 2003, the play premiered off Broadway. The following year, it won a Pulitzer prize for drama.

“She was tremendously supportive and submitted to over 50 hours of interviews that we did together, 500 pages of a tape transcript," Wright said. "I told her that I would be telling her life in as true a way as I could, but I would be taking some liberties for the sake of the drama.

 “She was very receptive. Regrettably, she passed away before I finished writing the play. So she was never able to pass judgment on it. I hope she would see it as a kind of love letter.”

Lived experience versus acting chops

McLaughlin, a nonbinary actor who splits their time between New York and Tampa, takes on not only the role of Charlotta, but the entire cast in this one-person play.

RP McLaughlin plays the part of Charlotta von Mahlsdorf, as well as more than 30 other characters in the one-person play "I am My Own Wife" at Tampa's Stageworks Theatre.
Daylina Miller
RP McLaughlin plays the part of Charlotta von Mahlsdorf, as well as more than 30 other characters in the one-person play "I am My Own Wife" at Tampa's Stageworks Theatre.

 Wright said there is a beauty and truth to "lived experience" that people like McLaughlin bring to roles like Charlotta.

"But there's also craft and the role requires that the actor had the malleability to play 33 different roles over time, and play characters of all genders and sexualities over the course of the evening," Wright said.

“And so, lived experience isn't always enough. You need formidable craft as well. And so when somebody can bring both of those things to the table, I think it's very exciting.”

McLaughlin said that while their experience as a nonbinary person certainly informs how they play Charlotta, it's not the end-all-be-all.

"It is important whenever you're playing a character to bring fullness, and humaneness and complexity to the performance of that character," McLaughlin said.

"I think, often, people who share experiences that the character has had can bring a certain level of depth to that portrayal. But I don't think that it is the kind of thing that you one must have experienced everything a character has experienced in order to authentically portray them."

Florida’s political climate

Hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills — aimed mostly at transgender people — have been proposed in Florida and across the country. Many have been passed into law.

This is the climate in which Stageworks’ Producing Artistic Director Karla Hartley thought it necessary to add "I Am My Own Wife" to this year's lineup.

A nonbinary person wearing a gray shirt and grey and white pants stands next to a woman with short hair wearing a yellow shirt. There's a table between them, and on the table are several small pieces of old-fashioned chairs and a couch.
Daylina Miller
RP McLaughlin responds to some feedback from Karla Hartley durring a recent rehearsal of "I Am My Own Wife."

 "One of the patrons here came to me and said, ‘Is this going to affect what you're able to do here at the theater?’ And I thought to myself that it certainly should,” Hartley said.

 “As artists, I think our job is to really agitate a little bit, but help guide people through the agitation."

With a trembling voice, she says her own son — a trans man with a trans partner — helped solidify her decision to share this play, in this moment, in this state.

 "They won't come home. Because they're afraid. So that's why."

Trans people have always existed

 The play, Hartley says, is a reminder that trans people are not new or trendy. In fact, trans people have been noted in cultures going back span of human history.

Much of the research done on the community and trans individuals was lost when the Nazi's looted and burned books at Berlin’s Institut für Sexualwissenschaft in 1933.

 "Charlotta actually existed, which is no surprise to people who understand this history. But I think maybe a surprise to many people, right? Who don't think of trans individuals as existing before 1980. But we did."

 McLaughlin notes that while this is absolutely a story of trans identity, it goes beyond that.

A closeup of a nonbinary person with short blonde hair and a grey shirt.
Daylina Miller
RP McLaughlin rehearses at Stageworks Theatre in Tampa in January for "I am My Own Wife," which debuts Feb. 9.

 "Charlotta is not just a trans woman, no matter what her identity was, sure," McLaughlin said. "Charlotta was also an

incredibly important preserver of antiques that would have otherwise been completely destroyed. She goes on to win the medal of honor from Germany."

 McLaughlin said it's easy to think that this play will just be a two-hour long history lecture from one person. But it's so much more than that.

They said "I Am My Own Wife" performs more like a thriller, with twists and turns keeping audiences on the edges of their seats.

And if it happens to make people more kind and compassionate towards the trans community, McLaughlin said that's even better.

"The theater has a unique power to build empathy in an individual. And I do believe that this play has the ability to help people see the fullness of humanity of trans individuals."

If you go

“I am My Own Wife” runs select nights Feb. 9 through Feb. 25, 2024. You can purchase tickets here.

Playwright Doug Wright will be available after the Sunday, Feb. 11, performance for a talk-back with the audience. That is included in the ticket price for that day.

Stageworks Theatre is located at 1120 E. Kennedy Blvd,, Suite 151, Tampa, 33602


  • Look for Stageworks’ illuminated sign outside.
  • Make sure you enter the parking garage on the left of the courtyard (West building)
  • After parking, use the elevator/stairs in the center of the garage. Avoid the elevator built into the side, this goes to the residential area. You’ll see Stageworks’ sign once again on the outside of the correct elevator
  • Go to the first floor, then our door is to your left

You can call (813) 374-2416 for more details, or with your questions.

I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.