In these fast-paced world we are almost always in a time crunch, rushed and stressed out. Multi-faceted entertainment is necessary — a theatrical spork that makes us laugh, cry and sing its praises. “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is the spork of our times: It is comedy, tragedy and a glam rock concert held in the Off Broadway Theater this weekend. Hedwig’s band follows Tommy Gnosis (Hedwig’s arch-nemesis) around the country on his grand tour, and the Yale community is very excited to welcome them both.
Hedwig, a transgender musical performer from East Berlin, is frustrated, much like any undiscovered diva. She laments that her talent is going by unnoticed. It is a shame, I have to admit, because she is capable of hypnotizing an audience for as long as she likes. She will do anything to keep you interested: sing, slide down poles, dance, even threaten you with spitting beer on your face. There is nothing she wouldn’t do for the spotlight, and her determination is to be applauded.
Hedwig is not just a character on stage. She exists in the same world as we do, which is one of the strong points of the show. There is no fourth wall, the actors interact with the audience as a performer would in a concert. The stage design is a central part of merging our world with Hedwig’s. As soon as we step into the theater, we see a stagehand set up a microphone for the superstar, an elevated platform for the band behind it and the designated seats for the audience exactly where they would be if it were an actual concert. Small touches like “Hedwig” stickers all over the keyboard and the drums make this new reality more convincing. The OBT is perfect for the performance. The industrial feel of the exposed brick walls and the pipes running overhead makes it easy to feel as if we have walked into an underground bar for a late-night concert rather than a theater venue.
One of the highlights of the show is its adaptability to the time and place of its performance. The first half of the show goes by like a semi-improvised act where neither the director of the show nor the rest of the Yale community is safe from Hedwig’s sense of humor. You might even be put on the spot to explain the famous Yale saying, “One in four maybe more?” So do some research before you decide to occupy the first row.
This metatheatre framework is also freeing for the designers, since they are able to use any effects they can imagine without having to hide them from the audience. In one song, Hedwig becomes the star of her own music video, produced real-time on stage with the help of an overhead projector, a Sharpie and a cup filled with water. The effects are visually beautiful and reminds one that it does not take much to become a star.
Much like any show that revolves around a single character, we end up learning a lot — perhaps more details than we would like — about the life of Hedwig. Her mother, her first lover, her career as a babysitter all weave into the story of this woman. As the show progresses, the queen that opened her gig with her right foot forward transforms into a less glamorous version of herself. She still laughs at the mishaps of her life, as do we.
In another world, laughing at the jokes she makes would make us feel like insensitive jerks — guilty, even. The performance packages social commentary in a joke, blending humor and serious conversations. Even though she claims so herself, Hedwig’s self-deprecating humor goes beyond the trope of “if you’re not laughing, you’re crying.” It is more subtle and complex: There is humor beyond the wild tragicomic storyline and Hedwig is probably aware of how ridiculous she can look sipping Pabst Blue Ribbon from a can through a pink straw.
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is a show where everyone can find something of interest; whether you see it for the live music, the raunchy stand-up comedy, or to enjoy good theater. Either way, you leave charmed by Hedwig. It is not a spoiler to say that she leaves the stage victorious, imprinting herself into the minds of her audience. I admit that I have not forgotten her and even miss her already.
Contact Eren Kafadar at firstname.lastname@example.org .