Transgendered people have often been depicted in media as being big, brassy and sassy and are sometimes used as a punch line. In “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” the “internationally-ignored song stylist” Hedwig is all of those things, but the jokes being told are on her terms.
The Broadway rock-musical is about the titular character’s journey from escaping East Berlin’s oppression during the Cold War to chasing a musical career as a wig-rocking singer in a proto-punk band. Hedwig and her band, The Angry Inch, tell her story through aggressive and heart felt lyrics.
Up until recently, the show had been starring Neil Patrick Harris. Now Michael C. Hall has taken the character to stage, which seemed like a strange but intriguing choice.
Hall’s performance was spectacular and daring. Despite the character’s gender being androgynous, Hall found a way to look completely comfortable in his character’s skin. The story explores the gray areas of gender and sexuality and the internal confusion that Hedwig experiences.
The band hardly had any dialogue, but they weren’t boring. The punk rock attire and the androgynous David Bowie-esque fashion gave the band a very dynamic look and their personalities glimmered in brief interactions with Hedwig that served the story by emphasizing her love of the spotlight.
The most prominent band member was Hedwig’s husband, Yitzhak, who feels dwarfed and oppressed by her ego. Yitzhak strikes back by opening a giant door on stage to let in green light and the voice of Hedwig’s ex-boyfriend, Tommy Gnossis, who is also played by Hall.
The pre-recorded voice of Gnossis is constantly praising the people in his life who had propelled his career, but neglects to mention Hedwig, which parallels the one sided relationship that Yitzhak and she share.
The Belasco Theatre’s stage looked almost post-apocalyptic with a broken down car in the middle flanked by guitar amps, keyboards and a drum set. The tones were drab, dark grays that were brought to life by the lighting, which used strongly saturated pinks and blues that cast the most interesting shadows.
Lighting also played a key role in the song “Origins of Love,” which used projectors to animate a scrim with images of lightning and snakes and body parts.
The song reflects the scriptwriter’s fascination with mythology, describing a creation myth in which love was unnecessary because people were attached to their other half. But the Gods grew intimidated and Zeus cut them in half and “some Indian god” sewed their wounds shut. The Nile Gods scattered them away and they were warned: “if we don’t behave, they’ll cut us down again and we’ll be hopping round on one foot and looking through one eye.”
The story echoes anxieties about social norms and conformity. Zeus symbolizes a patriarchal figure that disempowers a creature by taking away a key part of its identity: “You better let me use my lightning, like scissors, like I cut the legs off the whales and dinosaurs into lizards.”
Hedwig herself struggles to reconcile her own identity and how it relates to love. “It is clear that I must find my other half. But is it a he or a she? What does this person look like? Identical to me? Or somehow complementary?”
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” provokes and surprises. It encourages empathy and understanding and transcends the stereotypes of transgender culture by showing a character that was pushed by circumstance and mishap to be the person she knows she is.