Hedwig O’Hara

Still Beautiful

I saw a live production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch a few weekends ago.  If you’ve never seen the movie, you really should because it’s amazing.  Since I posted my review of the stage show on teh internetz in a somewhat official capacity, I couldn’t really delve into how much Hedwig’s story really means to me on a personal level because it would have devolved into emotional dribble.  But here I can do whatever the hell I want, so HA.  The review I wrote is pasted at the bottom.

When I first saw Hedwig in college at a midnight movie theater (said everyone who’s ever seen the movie), I pretty much became instantly obsessed.  I love Hedwig.  I feel her.  I know her in my core.  I’ve really had to overcome my shyness at admitting to be the soul sister of a transsexual woman who was coerced into having a sex change operation that was completely botched, especially considering I am a heterosexual ciswoman.  But my GOD, I gaze into John Cameron Mitchell’s wet, aching blue eyes on screen and, as the poetic lyric goes, I could tell by her expression that the pain down in her soul was the same as the one down in mine.

To be honest, in my projected imaginary mirrorland, I like to think of myself as a mixture of:

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The glorious Hedwig

And:

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The equally glorious Scarlett

There is something about Scarlett’s spoiled and impetuous (and, dare I say, feminist) nature that just charms the hell out of me.  And I completely empathize with what it’s like to chase after the dream of Ashley only to find that he’s a total wiener. (Side note: Yes, I am aware that the novel Gone with the Wind is sentimentally racist.  The film, which thankfully cut a lot of that out, did give Hattie McDaniels a chance to win her well-deserved Oscar, so I’d like to think it helped pay back at least a little karma.)

Anyway, back to Hedwig. I realize that I have not undergone anything tremendously horrific as, say, having my sexual organs permanently disfigured, but I recognize the fear of loneliness and pain of being rejected.  I thought I found my soulmate in every poor sap I ever dated.  If there was a book on my dating life before M Fox, the title would either be You Probably Should Have Joined a Nunnery, subtitled At Least Jesus Would Love You  or Sex Doesn’t Equal Love, You Freaking Idiot. (Spoiler: I am the freaking idiot.)

Aside from the love story, more poignantly, Hedwig is the symbol of what it’s like to feel like you were born into the wrong body.  My sexual orientation is pretty well-protected in the current manifestation of society, but I’ve hated my body since I could recognize that pop culture hated my body.  I have thought I was fat since I was eight.  I’ve been called every shitty fat name cruel kids can think of.  Whale Woman or Earthquake Girl were particular favorites in the 7th grade.  All I can say is thank God we didn’t have Facebook when I was a kid because when I read these studies on cyberbullying, I just know in the pit of my stomach that I would have been a victim.

I look at art from Bouguereau and Rubens and I think I could have been a model hundreds of years ago.  But by today’s standards I’m fat.  I used to lament endlessly about it, wishing I could have been born with a modern body.  I’ve starved and run and biked and dieted and eaten more cabbage soup than a non-Irish peasant should ever have to eat.  Songs like “Big Girls You Are Beautiful” and “Fat Bottom Girls” can only make you laugh and feel good about yourself for the length of the song.  I’m pretty sure I watched Titanic three times in the theatre so that I could watch Kate Winslet and marvel at how they allowed a curvy woman to be successful and beautiful and naked.  She was a beacon for me in junior high.

And Hedwig is a beacon because she too dares to be beautiful and powerful and talented in the face of rejection and public shaming. Hedwig is loud, angry, and funny.  She is in pain, but she is not without hope.  And you can’t tear her down!  She also writes a damn good song.  So while I feel like Hedwig as a queer icon is not necessarily why I relate to her, I still got her back and I’d like to think that she has mine.  I’m way more comfortable in my own skin than I used to be, though like everyone I have moments of crippling doubt and self-loathing, but it’s helpful to have people, fictional or otherwise, that help you through.  Hedwig is one of those for me.

My favorite lyrics from the show:

“I look back on where I’m from

Look at the woman I’ve become

And the strangest things seem

Suddenly routine.”

-“Wig in a Box”

“The fates are vicious and they’re cruel

You’ve learned too late you’ve used two wishes like a fool

And then you’re someone you are not

And Junction City ain’t the spot

Remember Mrs. Lot and when she turned around?

And when you’ve got no other choice

You know you can follow my voice

Through the dark turns and noise

Of this wicked little town.”

-Wicked Little Town

“The last time I saw you

We were just ripped in two

You were looking at me

I was looking at you

You had a way so familiar that I could not recognize

You had blood in your face, I had blood in my eyes

But I could tell by your expression

That the pain down in your soul was the same

As the one down in mine

That’s the pain that cuts a straight line down through the heart

We call it love.”

-The Origin of Love

And pretty much the entirety of the song “Sugar Daddy,” because, let’s face it, I also deserve to be spoiled and sugared and pampered like a queen.

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“I’ll be your Venus on a chocolate clam shell

Rising on a sea of marshmallow foam

If you’ve got some sugar for me,

Sugar Daddy, bring it home.”

***

Balagan Theater starts the year off with everyone’s favorite Eastern Block rock goddess, Hedwig and her swarthy band The Angry Inch.  Co-produced with STG, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is an Obie Award-winning off-Broadway show by creators John Cameron Mitchell (who also originated the role of “Hedwig”) and Stephen Trask.  A film version was released in 2000 and has developed a devoted cult following, with good reason.

A tale of sexual identity, loyalty, and the almighty rock’n’roll, “Hedwig” travels the hard-knock road of the titular character and her band as they traipse across the country setting the record straight.  More a concert confessional than a play, the audience is treated to a barrage of mind-blowing songs including “Origins of Love,” “Wig in a Box,” and the tender “Wicked Little Town,” intertwined with the autobiographical back story of the deliciously vain protagonist, the victim of a botched sex-change operation.  Through song and stinging commentary, she reveals details of her love affair with the now famous Tommy Gnosis, and the true composer of his number one hits.

However, beyond the sass, Hedwig is a lost human being, searching for her soul mate and herself (whichever comes first).  The lyrics betray the bitter anger and aching loneliness that pulse beneath her irrepressible swagger and sarcasm.  Hedwig’s journey is all the more stirring because the performer under the wig is the best you will ever see.

Jerick Hoffer as “Hedwig” is absolutely incredible. Every wonderful thing you hear about him is 100% true.  Hoffer has had one heck of a year as a drag queen, recently seen at The 5th Avenue as “Angel” in “RENT” and as a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race (season premiere January 28 on Logo TV).  He is also known to many in Seattle as preeminent drag queen chanteuse Jinkx Monsoon, host of the popular “An Evening at Le Faux” weekly celebrity impersonation show at Julia’s on Broadway.  As Hedwig, he is inspired, from the glittery red lips to the killer ankle boots and the notorious potty-mouth tinged with a German accent.  And what pipes!  Hoffer’s Hedwig is vicious and vulnerable, sweet and snarky, beautiful and monstrous.  When the posters say “Jerick Hoffer is Hedwig,” this is not an exaggeration.  Truly the performance of a lifetime.  There isn’t a number in the show that doesn’t captivate.

Erin Stewart as Hedwig’s husband “Yitzhak” is also an excellent singer, melting into Hoffer’s vocals flawlessly.  Yitzhak’s quiet resentment and pain is palpable, even as he lurks in the back with a stone face.  The irony of Hedwig’s driving desperation to be rightfully recognized as an artistic genius is never so poignant as when she brushes Yitzhak’s own aspirations aside.

The Angry Inch features several musicians from The Walkabouts, 1uppers, Zony Mash, and Swallo.  Together they are superb — they compliment Hoffer perfectly, injecting their own personalities without upstaging.  Ultimately they are there to rock your socks off and they do so handily.

Director Ian Bell did a wonderful job of taking an outrageous show and giving every aspect its due without over- or under-doing it.  Hedwig is the star (or she’ll cut you), but her accoutrements, be they human, set, or prop, are essential to her story and only enrich the flavor of the performance.  The sparse, graffiti-ed stage gives the feel of a filthy dive bar, probably the last venue that will allow Hedwig in the building.  Generally when productions use projections, it seems unnecessary at best and distracting at first, but “Hedwig” uses them to perfection, especially during the engrossing stop-animation throughout “The Origin of Love.”

This is a show for anyone who has ever felt like they were born into the wrong body.  This is a show for anyone who has felt betrayed by someone they loved deeply.  This is a show for anyone who has ever been taken for granted.  This is a show for anyone who feels invisible.  And if somehow you have managed to get through life unmarred by any of these things, this is a show for anyone who loves great music performed by a great band with the most awesome front woman you will ever see.

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