Text by John Cameron Mitchell
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Trask
Directed by PJ Paparelli
Musical Direction by Malcolm Ruhl
At American Theatre Company (ATC)
Cult drag show is a strange mix of humor and pathos
I’m not sure how Hedwig and the Angry Inch fits into ACT’s mission statement “What does it mean to be an American?” The show is a drag nightclub act /concert—not a musical. It is also about an East German guy desperate to leave communist oppression and get to the USA in the late 60’s. This is a curious selection and I’m not sure how the loyal patrons of ATC’s work will respond to their first rock show. Hedwig is a ‘love it or hate it’ affair. If you don’t like drag shows or loud rock music, then this isn’t for you. But if punk rock and drag is your thing, then Hedwig will be a treat. I guess I’m just too traditional for this kind of show—it left me with a headache.
I must confess that I’m not a fan of drag shows and I have seen several through the years, especially in Holland and Germany. Nick Garrison, as Hedwig, is a seasoned veteran having performed this show several times. Hedwig is a bio-musical—the story of Hansel, a gay boy trapped in East Germany in a man’s body. He loves rock and drag. He falls for black American who promises to marry him if he gets the operation to become a woman. After a botched surgery, Hansel become Hedwig, married and immigrates to America and becomes a rock/drag performer.
In between a selection of punk rock tunes that ranged from manic to melancholy many of which were completely incoherent, Hedwig tells her sad life story including how she became partners with Yitzhak (Sadieh Rifai) and how she was rejected by Tommy Gnosis (the voice of Patrick Andrews).
I found this to be a crude, foul-mouth rock/drag show light on story (I never could relate or like Hedwig so I didn’t care about his/her story.) Musically, it is hard for me to judge since I’m not a fan of punk rock music. This show has a specific appeal to a demographic that doesn’t include me. The matinee performance I attended found some wildly cheering and some totally bewildered. The show has cult status with a huge appeal to some.
At American Theatre Company (ATC), 1909 W. Byron, Chicago, IL, 773-409-4125, www.atcweb.org, tickets $35 – $40, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, matinees on Saturdays & Sundays at 3 pm, Saturday late nights at 11 pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission.