There is a moment in Comparison is Violence, one of this year’s more buzz-worthy Spoleto USA offerings, when creator/star Taylor Mac tells the audience that her trans rock persona was inspired by Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
On Friday, What If? Productions launched its Piccolo run of Hedwig. We’re not sure anyone in the audience was moved to mount a gender-bending stage show, but the entertaining performance was more than worthy of its own must-see status.
A 1998 Off-Broadway hit from John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, the original show that wowed Taylor Mac was followed by a cult classic movie of the same name.
In the play, transgender rock nobody Hedwig and her band have been criss-crossing the country, playing small venues as they follow the successful tour of her one-time lover, rock star Tommy Gnosis. Wherever Hedwig is playing, Tommy is on stage at a much larger venue across the street. Hedwig is a concert, a play, and performance art all together.
In between the music, which is pretty eclectic for a rock show, Hedwig recounts her harrowing exit from communist East Germany just before the Berlin Wall fell. He needed to become a she to get out of the country, but a botched surgery left an inch of manhood. She eventually gets on her feet here in the states, but falls back down again. And that’s where the audience finds her. Think Charlie Sheen’s “Torpedo of Truth” Tour, only ridiculously entertaining.
Mitchell’s script rolls through several giggle-worthy double entendres, as Hedwig recounts “the people I’ve come upon” and “the people who have come upon me.” But there’s also some unexpected gems, like a spilled bag of gummi bears that Hedwig refers to as “rainbow carnage.” Referencing pop rock bands like Boston and Kansas, she quips, “Travel exhausts me.” Trask’s music and lyrics are the other reason this show has found success, including stand-outs like “The Origin of Love,” “The Angry Inch,” and “Wig In A Box.”
The American Theatre is a little too much of a banquet hall for Hedwig’s barroom antics. But director Kyle Barnette uses the space well, with pub tables up front, flanked by traditional (and traditionally uncomfortable) seating. But, clocking in at less than 90 minutes, you’re heading for the door before you start squirming in your seat — and the bar in the house helps, too. The premiere also included an opening act, the luchador-clad Baby Lips, that fittingly prepared the audience for the unusual.
A photo slideshow aids Hedwig in her storytelling and provides some laughs and complementary images, but most of our attention is focused on the stage.
Brian Porter’s performance as Hedwig is naughty, sassy, and damn sexy. Beth Curley’s wing-man, Yitzhak, serves as a good foil for Hedwig and she’s a great performer when she takes center stage.
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