Mitchell & Trask’s Rock Musical Transforms Marginalized into Stars
by K. Marguerite Caronna
Shotgun Theater’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” dazzles with a rocking, electric journey from lonely despair to exciting redemption—a mythic quest for identity and love.
The audience is enticed to wander into the “Ashby Sit & Spin Dive Bar,” one of Hedwig’s throw down performance venues. Carlos Aceves’ evocative set design of graffitied walls, giant gummy bears, and suspended mannikin torsos provide a visual frolic. Aceves’ design combines on-stage seating with a cabaret setting.
Under the inspired direction of Richard A. Mosqueda, Hedwig (multi-talented Pangaea Colter) works the club and the audience. She fiercely unravels her story in music and monologues, assisted by the ever-patient Yitzhak (powerhouse belter Elizabeth Curtis).
And a woeful tale it is. Pitiful even, if she didn’t have such a kick ass back-up band, called “The Angry Inch.” Band members come from the outrageously talented local group “Skip the Needle,” which includes Kofy Brown, Katie Cash, Shelley Doty, and Vicki Randle.
Costume Designer Kip Yanaga provides brilliant night-club costumes, as Hedwig lets in the audience in on her past. Starting life as Hansel in East Germany, he falls in love with a G.I who will take him to the US. But first Hansel must have gender reassignment surgery to become Hedwig—so she can enter the U.S. as a “bride.”
But the botched operation leaves her constructed vagina closed, leaving Hansel—now Hedwig—with a one-inch mound of flesh with “a scar running down it like a sideways grimace on an eyeless face.”
The couple lands in a trailer in Junction City, Kansas, where her G.I. husband abandons her for a man. The irony of the desertion leaves Hedwig dejected and demoralized.
Hedwig finds solace in writing music and forming her own band. Hedwig and “The Angry Inch” support themselves by playing sorry coffee houses and strip mall dives—a sad affair.
Hedwig writes songs for a new friend, Tommy, who then appropriates her music and betrays her. Her antagonist Tommy becomes wildly successful, leaving Hedwig “internationally overlooked.” But you can’t bring a good woman down.
She follows Tommy’s rock star whirlwind tour, intent on reuniting or destroying him. Does she sink beneath retribution and her desire for revenge? Or does she transcend her tale of tragedy?
First performed in 1998, the show seemed scandalous and revolutionary. After a few decades, beloved old shows return to share their glories. Some age better than others.
Riffs from 1998 may have lost their charm, hopefully indicating a greater awareness about gender identity. Despite dynamic and courageous performances, John Cameron Mitchell’s script begins to feel repetitive—a few songs too many.
For a good time, check out Hedwig. Have a cocktail or a mocktail at the “Ashby Sit & Spin.”
“Hedwig & the Angry Inch” –text by John Cameron Mitchell, music & lyrics by Stephen Trask, directed by Richard A. Mosqueda, scenic design by Carlos Aceves, music supervised by Daniel Alley, costume design by Kip Yanaga, by Shotgun Players, Berkeley, California. Info: shotgunplayers.org – to December 17, 2023.
Cast: Pangaea Colter, Elizabeth Curtis, Mary Ramos, and Chris Steele.
Banner photo: Shelley Doty & Pangaea Colter. Photos: Ben Krantz