But playwright Doug Wright was taken with a different piece of von Mahlsdorf: her furniture. Wright conducted extensive interviews with von Mahlsdorf and penned the story of her life in his play I Am My Own Wife. No story of von Mahlsdorf would be complete without her antique collection, and Wright knew her antique furniture was essential to his show. He also knew that many theatres would not be equipped to build full-sized replicas of the intricate—and large—antiques.
Enter Omaha designer Paul Pape.
In 2001, Pape was brought on at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego to help with scenic and prop design for a brand new play. “It happened to be I Am My Own Wife,” Pape said. “I worked side-by-side while Doug Wright workshopped it with Jefferson Mays as the actor.
Doug Wright would go on to win a Pulitzer for the play. Jefferson Mays would pick up a Tony after starring in both Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.
But Pape, a grad student at the time, had no way of knowing what a sensation the show would become. “I never thought the show would move out of the new play territory.”
He was just focused on the furniture.
At the end of the run, Pape gifted the furniture pieces to Wright and thanked him for the opportunity.
“About a year later I was asked for permission for that set to be used on Broadway,” Pape said. “Of course I said yes.” The miniature pieces of antique furniture headed off to NYC, and the rest is history.
Pape created two additional sets of miniatures to be rented out to theatres for use in productions of the show. Somewhere along the way, one set was stolen.
“The one that OCP is using is the last remaining [set]. It has traveled all over the world. Australia, England, Zimbabwe, US and Canada. It's been in about 40 different productions. So there is a lot of history mixed up in that little box of miniature furniture.”
I Am My Own Wife opens Friday, Oct. 30 in the Howard Drew Theatre at OCP. Click here to purchase tickets.