KPBS AIRDATE: August 29, 2003
A splendid young swan has emerged in a strip mall on El Cajon Blvd. Sean Murray has birthed his new Cygnet Theatre (a cygnet, as you probably know, is a baby swan, and also a sly reference to the Swan Theatre that was Shakespeare’s competition), and a beautiful space it is. Not quite tawdry enough for its first inhabitant, the astonishing, gender-bending “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Hedwig is a beleaguered rockstar wannabe, a hapless, hopeless “girlie-boy” from Communist East Germany who gets a marriage proposal and a ticket to the U.S. on the condition he has a sex-change operation. Unfortunately, the surgery is botched; what he’s left with is the titular angry inch. Poor Hedwig is abandoned in the American hinterlands, ripped off musically and vocally by a young pretty-boy he mentored and created, and adrift and disconnected, searching for his true self, his other half.
In a series of hot rock-songs, with a few country numbers and searing ballads thrown in, interspersed with biting wit and trashy talk, Hedwig, all glitz and glam, tells her sad, sad story, taking us on her journey to identity, wholeness. Along the way, we all learn, that “To be free, you have to give up a little part of yourself.”
Murray’s production is eye-popping and ear-splitting, though they’ve apparently gotten the sound balance under control since the opening. The music and Lyrics, by Stephen Trask, were loud but not always clear when I saw it. The glitzy costumes were designed by Shelly Williams, the wild wigs by Peter Herman. The text was written by John Cameron Mitchell, who created the character and played it Off Broadway and onscreen, creating a huge cult following. It’s this decade’s “Rocky Horror Show.”
And the performances are flawless. Jeremiah Lorenz is a marvel who leaps like a lynx, even in a skinny-mini skirt and stilt-high platform boots. He was terrific as the Emcee in “Cabaret” last winter at North Coast Rep; he’s stupendous as Hedwig, displaying a heartrending mixture of bravado and vulnerability, anguish and humor. And he sings like crazy. Great vocal backup from a snarlingly fabulous band, and from high-octane rocker Jenn Grinels as Hedwig’s current squeeze, the angry Yitzak, a woman playing a bearded man who really wants to be a glamorous drag queen. Gender identity is obviously fluid here. Go in with no assumptions. Take nothing for granted. Hedwig is guaranteed to spin your head and blow your mind.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.