February 26, 2004

Wigging Out

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While the theater audience may be quite accustomed to being asked to turn off their cell phones as a courtesy, the spectators of this one particular show were told to put their phones on vibrate, put them on their crotch, and enjoy the show. The line served to prepare the audience for the sexually charged, humorously vulgar, and sensibly assaulting story of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The show, in its content and production, like its hero(ine) does not fit quite well into any one genre.

It is a musical, a love story, a tragedy, a comedy, and ultimately a rock concert. The show is a poignant meditation on a tortured (though, not quite) rock star: a product of the divided Germany, a neglectful mother, hours and hours of American Forces Radio, a GI lover, and a botched sex change operation (from whence the band’s name, Angry Inch, came). The audience is witness to the creature that is Hedwig and her recollection of how she got there in the first place.

Hedwig’s life thus far has been characterized primarily by a lack. Her happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction, and consequently her entire livelihood are grounded on finding her other half. It is based on that Platonic idea that we, individually, are merely halves of a whole as brilliantly told in the song “The Origin of Love.” As a young boy, he took the myth that we were once two-headed, four-armed, four-legged creatures, split apart by Zeus who were doomed to wander the earth in search of our missing halves quite seriously. Love — that force, that desire, that hunger — served as a punishment for our obstinacy. Indeed, Hedwig suffers from it. Romantically inclined, Hedwig searches for her other half, first thinking it’s the American “Sugar Daddy” who serves as her ticket to the United States, only to find herself abandoned soon afterwards. Hedwig, always idealistic falls in love once again, this time with a young army brat, Tommy, with whom she shares knowledge, wisdom, and music. Yet again, she finds herself deserted. This time, her lover not only takes her heart but also his music. Tommy catapults into commercial success and fame using songs written mostly by Hedwig. What Hedwig finds in the end is possibly more ambiguous than the character itself. It is left to the viewer to decide if the void is indeed filled.

The struggling transsexual rock star tells the story of her life through musical numbers reminiscent of 70s glam rock

and numerous, often painful flashbacks aided by an animated

projection on the backdrop of the stage. A four piece band and two actors comprise the cast that gives life to Stephen Trask’s music and John Cameron Mitchell’s text. The off-Broadway show, originally produced in New York City in 1998 has since been made into a film. Actor Aaron Berk steps into Hedwig’s leather stiletto boots, dons her pink-streaked blonde wig, and astoundingly belts the notes on both enraged rock songs and sincere ballads. He is joined by S.J. Pickett, a woman who, in keeping with the motif of gender obfuscation, plays a man who was formerly a drag queen himself.

The show ran an extra week longer than the planned three weeks and sold to a very stunned, shocked, scandalized, yet overall satisfied audience. Whether it was in sheer amazement of the con

tent (the angst-ridden drag queen, the assault on gender stability) or just the great music and its performance by the artistically limber Berk (both vocally and physically), the show left mouths agape. Offering a disconcerting reality of identity and its relationship with sexuality, Hedwig’s content confronts and incites great political and philosophical debate on what makes a man, what makes a woman, and the nature of love.

Despite the seemingly convoluted characterization, elaborate costuming, and intricate execution of Hedwig’s life story, ultimately Hedwig is a story of finding pleasure and satisfaction. While a German transvestite drag-queen seems farther than anything in your world, the following lines from the opening number suggest otherwise: “Without me right in the middle, babe, you would be nothing at all.”

Archived article by Whine Del Rosario