(“Hedwig and The Angry Inch” plays at Boxcar Theatre from December 5 through February 11.)
“How did some slip of a girly boy from communist East Berlin become the internationally ignored song stylist barely standing before you?” asks the stunningly outre Hedwig at the start of John Cameron Mitchell‘s and Stephen Trask‘s cult tranny rock-and-roll musical, before proceeding to tell her life story.
What follows is an avalanche of great rock, sensuous dance, gender bending, pithy one liners and joyful celebration of the outsider. It’s like a menage a trois of “Cabaret”, “Hair” and “Tommy”. And it’s wonderful.
The writing is an effective web of puns, symbols and metaphors drawing on imagery from Nazi genocide to the Berlin wall to mid-American trailer parks to wigs. In the end, it is a kunstleroman with which we can all identify as Hedwig brings all the strands together to become her magnificent self.
The story begins in childhood in East Berlin, where the mother (Elinor Bell) of young Hansel (later to be Hedwig) was given a job by the communists “teaching sculpture to limbless children”. They lived in an apartment so small, Hedwig reports, that “mother made me listen to the radio in the oven.”
Hansel the self-described girly boy is eventually seduced by an American soldier, Luther (Russell Johnson), who offers to get married and bring Hansel to America. There is a catch, of course. Hansel will need a sex change operation. This is paid for by his mother, who also gives him her name: Hansel becomes Hedwig. Unfortunately, the operation is botched, and Hedwig is left with neither penis nor vagina, but merely a one inch mound of flesh she describes as a “barbie doll crotch”. That is the “angry inch”.
In America, Luther abandons Hedwig and she goes on to other love affairs, most notably Tommy (Kevin Singer), a rock’n’roller who steals her act. Eventually, Hedwig, winds up performing in crumby bars along with her band, “Hedwig and The Angry Inch”.
All of that story, though, is secondary to the explosion of music, passion and witty one liners that makes this such a wonderful show. How can we resist wit like this: “I can smell your thoughts from here. Take a thought shower.” Or, “The air is thicker than a Russian nun’s bush.” Trust me, it plays better than it reads.
Director Nick A. Olivero has set Hedwig in a nightclub/cabaret, with tables and a bar – no theatre seating. (The multi-talented Mr. Olivero is also credited with the set design.) Essentially, we are present at a performance of Hedwig and her band. Olivero’s most excellent innovation is to cast eight superb singer/actors as Hedwig. Each of them is convincing, but each is distinct. Hedwig becomes a multitude, a kind of god-like figure who has, like the heroes of Greek drama, been torn apart into multiple pieces (that was the botched sex change operation). What we witness is the moment after speragmos (the tearing apart) as Hedwig reaches spiritual maturity.
Do I make this sound heavy and intellectual? It’s not. It’s rock’n’roll, but the wonder of the achievement here is that “Hedwig” manages to entertain while still being stuffed solidly with insight and emotional depth. It is no surprise that professors of queer theory continue to assign the film to graduate students. Don’t let that keep you away.
All of the cast is excellent, including each of the eight Hedwig’s. But Amy Lizardo as Yitzhak is a standout. Her vocal range, rock’n’roll chops and acting all sail into the stratosphere.
Whatever flaws this production might have are simply steamrollered by the absolute emotional sincerity of the performers, the musical excellence of the band, and the general fabulousness of it all. You should go. For further information, click here.
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” by John Cameron Mitchell with music by Stephen Trask, produced by Boxcar Theatre, directed by Nick A. Olivero. Scenic Design: Nick A. Olivero. Scenic Artist: Costume Design: Wes Crain. Wig & Make Up Design: Jonathan Reisfeld. Lighting Design: Mark Hueske. Choreographer: LaTonya Watts. Sound Engineer: Mischa Skeeter.
Yitzhak: Amy Lizardo. Hedwig 1: Arturo Galster. Hedwig 2: John Lewis. Hedwig 3: James Mayagoitia. Hedwig 4: Ste Fishell. Hedwig 5: Nikki Arias. Hedwig 6: Nicole Julien. Hedwig 7: Anastasia Bonaccorso. Hewig 8: CC Sheldon. Tommy: Kevin Singer. Luther: Russell Johnson. Mother: Elinor Bell. Young Hansel: Parker Sela.
The Angry Inch:
Jacek (Bass): Neil Bowlus. Schlatko (Drums): John Hollis. Kryzhtoff (Guitar): Jake Padilla. Skszp (Piano): Rachel Robinson.
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