By R.H. Joseph
It's hard to say what there is to say 'cause I can't quite say what was said.
With a sissy in mufti looking too much like Buffy it seemed there'd be trouble ahead.
But my hands soon were clappin' and my toes also tappin'; good rock 'n' roll music played loud.
While a guy/chick was screamin' and steamin' 'bout issues both heartfelt and deeply profound.
'cause his lyrics are racy, yet funny and spacey, the hippest among you should head
Through a door to this madness, you'll erupt soon with gladness to things the more timid deplore.
Told primarily through lyrics (deeply) embedded in rock 'n' roll music, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" will transport you with a kickin' band capable of overcoming the shortcoming of a frequently unintelligible, yet presumably hip, book.
For this production set designer Kat Conley has turned the interior of Actor's Express into a country & western saloon replete with a stage, a long (functioning) bar festooned with pictures of Johnny Cash and Elvis (the way we'd prefer to remember him), and intimate little tables with surfaces no bigger than the hubcaps on grandpa's Buick.
Fundamentally you're in a club, not a theater and you can imbibe spirits during the course of the rousing performance by Hedwig and his band, The Angry Inch.
The play (or more accurately, the concert) is a reflection by Hedwig on those psychological uncertainties and affairs of the heart which leave so many adolescents, particularly those outside the sexual mainstream, despondent.
From what I could gather, young Hedwig found himself stirred by the sort of sexual desires often shunned and condemned by bourgeois society and felt adrift in a world beyond his ken.
There were issues with his mother as well but because I couldn't understand what he was singing I'm not entirely sure what they were. Apparently a demonstrative love for her child was not forthcoming and there was something about blood. As to the latter, that's about all I could glean.
Hedwig's story begins in Berlin prior to the end of the Cold War and the destruction of its infamous wall. Presumably John Cameron Mitchell (text) and Stephen Trask (music and lyrics) set the story in Berlin for it provides the frisson of deviance so appealing to those attuned to that sort of thing precisely the sort of people who will find this play most seductive. (If you liked "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"?)
Furthermore, from what I could gather Hedwig finds the destruction of the wall personally symbolic, somehow referring to the ultimate reunification of his divided self. As I said, it's hard to be definitive when significant portions of the lyrics prove so elusive.
Nevertheless, for the right audience an extremely hip, urban audience this production is a gas. It could be so much better, however, if a lyric sheet were provided for perusal prior to Hedwig (Mark Salyer) making his grand entrance.
It's worth noting that in their programs the Atlanta Symphony provides translations of the choral music, thereby making the concerts so much more meaningful, and "supertitles," translations that stream above the proscenium electronically, are now commonplace at opera hoses everywhere.
Those snippets that are accessible in Hedwig range from atrocious puns to acerbic satire, from witty send ups of a variety of popular music forms (including a pointed clarification of the difference between heavy metal and punk) to the sort of scathing, irreverent references to religious issues that will render this play blasphemous to those inclined to employ such terms.
The aforementioned will be less than enamored of Hedwig as well. No doubt in the demimonde within which those such as Hedwig dwell there is a particular word or phrase that best describes individuals such as he.
However, as I am unaware of what this might be (The judgmental among us will simply refer to him as a deviant.), suffice it to say the character's face is overwhelmed by theatrical makeup, his head subsumed beneath a wig that would have made Farrah Faucett proud, and his body is as devoid of hair as Michael Jordan's ebony pate. A looker he's not.
But the boy can rock 'n' roll. Backed by the effervescent (you gotta see her clog!) Katy Carkuff on keyboards, Chad Yarborough, Marc Cram and Angela Motter on guitars, Jim Johnson on bass, and Andrew Davis on drums, Salyer erupts in hard core rock, croons sensitively on ballads, and brings down the house with a saucy country bit that will have you doubled up with laughter.
Peter Hauenstein is musical director and Joseph P. Monaghan III is the sound designer. It must be said, I doubt the unintelligibility is Monaghan's fault. It's the nature of hard core rock to be a visceral assault on the senses the more it hurts, the better it is. The band is great and it hurt so good.
Salyer and Carkuff contribute an astonishing amount of physical intensity to the production and the audience responds as they do within the delirium associated with a more typical rock 'n' roll concert. Randee Trabitz directs and there's nary a longeur in the fast-paced, seamless event.
Adding to this fascinating theatricality are some special lighting effects for which Cat Tate is held responsible and it must be assumed that she is also responsible for the interesting cut outs projected upon the wall.
For the right audience, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is a must.