Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003.

Off-Broadway Premiere: Playwrights Horizons, 2003. Broadway Premiere: Lyceum Theatre, 2003

Pulitzer Prize for Drama


A single room. A single male actor in a black dress


Act I


A Lecture on the Phonograph. Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf talks about Edison’s phonograph and how she played it while Mahlsdorf was being bombed.

The World Flips Upside Down. Reporter John Marks invites Doug, a playwright, to come to Berlin to interview Charlotte. They approach her mansion.

Das Gründerzeit Museum. Charlotte displays treasures from her collection. Doug writes for permission to interview her for a play, and she assents.

Translating Tante Luise. Charlotte tells John and Doug about the first time she wore women’s clothes at the home of her Tante Luise who always dressed like a man.

The Giveaway. Doug gives a physical description of Charlotte.

Are You a Boy or a Girl? Charlotte tells about being caught by the SS as a deserter at the end of the war and being released by an officer because she was only 16.

Listening. Charlotte compares her Edison phonograph with Doug’s recorder.

Vaterland. Charlotte narrates beating her abusive father to death.

Auf Deutsch. Doug writes to John about his struggles with German.

Durch die Luft. Charlotte tells about the end of the war and being liberated from prison by the Russians.

Eine Spende. Doug has to sell his car to continue his trips to Europe.

Mulack-Ritze. Charlotte tells about establishing a cabaret for gays and lesbians in the basement of her home in Mahlsdorf.

Bundesverdienstkreuz. Charlotte receives an award for preserving the Mulack-Ritze.

Berlin from Behind. Charlotte investigates the thriving gay scene in West Berlin after the wall comes down.

I, Lothar Berfelde (Charlotte’s birth name). Charlotte tells about being forced to become an informer for the Stasi.

Bated Breath. The news breaks that Charlotte was an informer in the ‘70s.

Horns. Charlotte has always preferred phonographs to radio or TV.


Act II


A Letter from Prison. Alfred Kirschner writes Charlotte from prison (1972); he is witty & cynical.

Erasure. Doug enquires about a blacked-out name he finds repeatedly in Charlotte’s Stasi records.

Mythology. Charlotte tells the story of her dealings with the homosexual antique collector Alfred Kirschner and about his being arrested and broken in prison and his death.

Aktenvermerk. John & Doug discuss differing views of Charlotte’s collaboration with the Stasi.

A Convenient Lapse. Doug confronts Charlotte about Alfred. There is controversy about whether or not her medal of honor should be rescinded.

The Three M’s. Charlotte’s commitments, in order: Museum, Möbel, Men.

Celebrity. Charlotte, interviewed on a talk show, is contemplating moving to Sweden.

Editorials: A Phantasmagoria. Charlotte is swarmed by reporters from all around the world who are seeking a scandal. She gives west answers to their east questions,

Diagnosis. A psychiatrist from Bonn diagnoses Charlotte as autistic.

Abdication. Doug wonders what to do with all his research.

On Curating. He takes a cue from Charlotte who said the nicks and scratches on her antiques were part of their history. Doug narrates her move to Sweden, her return on a visit to Berlin, and her death to a heart attack amidst her antiques.

Between Two Lions. Doug describes the last picture Charlotte sent him, a picture of her as a little boy at a zoo posing between two lion cubs.[1] A recording of his first interview and a gramophone recording. The End.




The subtitle on the play’s frontispiece: “Studies for a Play About the Life of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf”—an accurate description of the form of the play.


There are 35 characters in the play, all to be played by a single actor. It’s hard to picture the transitions between characters, almost all to be made without costume changes. An acting tour de force, to be sure. The primary characters are Charlotte, Doug the playwright, and Doug’s friend John Marks.


The narrative mode facilitates jumping back and forth between dates and places.


The play has affinities with O’Brien‘s The Body of an American. Both plays are about the interviewing and collecting of materials for a play, both are bio-dramas, both feature the playwright as a major character, both have multiple characters played by male actors (two in the case of Body). Since O’Brien’s play followed Wright’s by a decade, it’s likely O’Brien took formal cues from Wright.


[1] The picture is include at the beginning of the Farrar edition of the play.