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THEATER Hedwig and the Angry Inch
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2019-07-01

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Playwright: text by John Cameron Mitchell, music and lyrics by Stephen Trask

At: Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre at the Howard Street Theatre, 721 Howard Street in Evanston. Tickets: theo-u.com 773-347-1109; $25-$30. Runs through: July 28

We are accustomed to musicals staged in football field-sized stadiums cluttered with wedding-cake decor, but Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell wrote their musical manifesto for intimate rooms like Theo Ubique's new home on the Evanston-Chicago border, and once you experience this 1998 cult classic in its natural environment, you'll wonder why anybody would want to see it anyplace else.

Here's the set-up: we playgoers are in a scruffy Chicago club ( think Reggie's Music Joint in the South Loop ) where Hedwig and her band, the Angry Inch, are appearing. Its location, we are told, is sufficiently proximate to Wrigley Field for back-door spillover noise from a concert thereat starring Tommy Gnosis, one of many faithless lovers in the saga of betrayal and theft that Hedwig is here to tell us.

We first encounter Hansel, the gay son of an absent father and embittered mother, living in torpid walled-off East Berlin—his sole comforts, the Platonic promise of a divinely appointed mate and the distant serenade of American top 40 radio. After consenting to become a GI bride, our hero undergoes a sex-reassignment operation that goes awry, leaving HER ( the terms "non-binary" and "gender-fluid" haven't been invented yet ) abandoned in Junction City, Kansas. There Hedwig—as her passport now identifies her—connects romantically with a young man of privilege, only to have him recoil from her mutilated genitalia, but not from a solo career forged on their co-compositions.

Keep your hankies in your handbags, though. From the moment that Hedwig enters, resplendent in LED-studded Lady Liberty drag, accompanied by the Angry Inch musicians wailing "America the Beautiful," the dynamic mandated by Toma Tavares Langston's direction is that of a hell-hath-no-fury woman scorned. As Hedwig's cross-dressing husband Yitzhak ( himself, a once-famous drag queen from Zagreb ) warns us, the ten-song score may have its quiet moments, but is mostly LOUD.

Let's not forget, either, the athletic stamina demanded of performers who must remain in full vanishing-point view of the audience for an entire intermissionless 100 minutes. This includes the orchestra led by Jeremy Ramey, utility vocalists Adriana Tronco and Jacob Gilchrist, as well as Brittany Brown, playing the devoted Yitzhak. The night belongs to Will Lidke, though. In the course of the show, this David Bowie-lookalike sprints throughout the auditorium in high-heeled boots, peels from a pre-Raphaelite princess gown to fishnet hose, swaps wigs a dozen times in the course of a single song and spins around a pole—all without voice, eye contact or command of our attention faltering for an instant. Auf geht's Hedwig!


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