There is no easy way to describe the experience of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. On one hand, it is a dramedy, a stand up comedy show, a rock show and a cabaret. On the other, it is a lesson in love, acceptance, understanding and their opposites: hate, rejection and prejudice. The tale of Hedwig, an East Berliner transvestite glam rocker, is complex and has as much genre and gender bending as it has music.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, written by John Cameron Mitchell with music by Stephen Trask, was a hit off-Broadway play until it was made into a movie in 2001. While the film centers mainly on Hedwig’s perilous fight to recover the rights to the songs that were stolen from him by his protÃ©gÃ©, Tommy Gnosis, the play centers more on the story of Hedwig himself.
The original theatrical production of Hedwig is now playing at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. The production is well-executed and all actors deliver astounding performances. The show brings a new type of twisted, cynical humor to the stage.
The play centers around Hansel, a young man raised in East Berlin, who was an abused child, and later became an avid cross-dressing rock lover in search of his other half. After years of an unsuccessful quest, he finally meets Luther Robinson, an American G.I. willing to marry him and take him to America. There, Hansel can lead a better life. But the problem is that in order to leave, “one must leave behind a little part of oneself.” Hansel must marry Luther in Germany, and that involves a full medical examination. He decides to undergo an operation that would fix his obvious anatomical problem. Despite the “botched” operation and the “angry inch,” Hansel takes his mother’s passport, becomes Hedwig and moves with Luther to the United States.
After trials and perturbations in a Kansas trailer park, Hedwig, now divorced from Luther, forms a bond with a young Tommy Speck, later Tommy Gnosis, and composes a number of songs. Tommy steals Hedwig’s intellectual property and becomes a rock star, leaving his male/female mentor behind. Hedwig, although heartbroken and crushed, remains his cynical and sarcastic self and forms a rock band that follows Tommy’s concert tour around the country.
The play is amazingly arranged and incredibly acted. David Karl Lee (Hedwig) delivers a great performance. He doesn’t miss a word or a beat from his almost one-man show. Becky Fisher is phenomenal as Yitzak, Hedwig’s foil and underappreciated companion. Fisher has the voice necessary for her part and uses it to her full ability. The accompanying band rocks out completely, and had they been a real band, they would be worth paying the $30 just to see them alone. The show is nothing short of perfection.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a touching story of an outsider trying to find a way in. The show, worth seeing for every single aspect, develops the story even further. Watching the play is an evening well spent.