Curtains: Phoenix Rising's Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Soul Invictus
You'd be angry, too: Hedwig (left) and the Angry Inch.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a play that takes the form of a club rock show during which the singer/songwriter, Hedwig (né Hansel) Schmidt, imparts the story of her life (sometimes in song, sometimes in bitchysweet monologue) up to this point, which includes having undergone a quickie, incomplete sexual reassignment surgery in East Berlin so that she could marry a U.S. serviceman and get out of East Germany. A year later, divorced and stranded in a Kansas trailer park, she watched the Berlin Wall come down on TV. That's irony, which is what people kept wanting to explain to Alanis Morissette (but, in fact, she entirely gets the distinction and was just writing a song for her 19-year-old self to sing).
So if you sometimes need earplugs at live music events, you might want to bring some to Soul Invictus. The band, called the Angry Inch after what remains between Hedwig's legs, is sweet and hot, and the sound is mixed quite nicely so that the vitally importrant lyrics are clearly understandable, but the back row of the tiny theater is directly in front of the amps, and this is rock.
Hansel was not a cross-dresser and didn't particularly want to be a woman, but, like most of us, he did want to fall in love and find his other half. Hedwig embraces her rather unique situation and finds some redemption in music -- but, you know, it's time to stop synopsizing, because this is really a show to become immersed in. It's intimate and somehow uplifting, and it's beautifully performed here as a labor of love by Phoenix Rising Artists Collaborative, formerly known as Artists' Theatre Project (@Pro), who came together orginally six years ago to do Hedwig and will soon move out of the Soul Invictus space on Grand in search of lower-overhead venues. My understanding [which, based on the photo above and the comments below, seems to be inaccurate, and big props to everyone who's worked on and supported the show over the years] is that the cast is the same as in 2004 except for Hedwig, who is now played by Scott Schmelder, and he is just super, with killer pipes, boundless physical confidence, and uncanny emotional range.
Sometimes achingly beautiful, sometimes screamingly funny, the script and songs by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask are what I guess I could call refreshingly accessible for a story about someone whose penis got cut off. And I think that's the point, for people who don't realize that already -- Hedwig's queer as the day is long, but she really isn't all that strange. To have been mutilated and repeatedly abandoned is no picnic, but there's a triumphant spirit and relatability to this cult favorite. It's like a punk Eurotrash Our Town.
At one point, Hedwig exhorts a lover to "love the front of me . . . It's what I have to work with." Replace "the front of me" with whatever imperfect bit of yourself isn't getting its propers, and you'll know where she's coming from. It's not that I'm shocked that something so genderfucked can tell so much truth about love -- I'm shocked and thrilled that I've come across a work of art of any kind that tells so much truth -- more than we get out of so-called real life a lot of the time.
The rest of the Inch does a great job, too, especially vocalist Tracy Payne, who plays Yitzhak, a man who used to be a drag queen ("Krystal Nacht, the Last Jewess of the Balkans") but isn't any more, musical director Terre Steed as keyboardist Skszp, and (in the foreground of the photo above) Christopher McCullough, who plays bassist Jacek with all the necessary chops but is also a lump of androgynous eye candy you'll be tickled to find at the bottom of your stocking.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch continues through Saturday, January 23, at Soul Invictus Gallery and Cabaret, 1022 Grand Avenue. Tickets are $20; order here or take your chances at the door.
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