When Actor's Express announced it was doing another production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, I knew I had to see it. I still hear raves about its first staging of the show five years ago, which I missed.
My interest in the rock 'n' roll musical by Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell, who also starred in the movie, is partly academic. The longest chapter of my doctoral dissertation is devoted to it.
I enjoyed the production. Unfortunately, a lot of Hedwig's monologue, performed by Craig Waldrip, is hard to follow, probably because he affects a German accent. Angela Motter, one of our city's muses, is terrific as Yitzhak. The band she fronts is the best thing about the production.
The presentation of Hedwig during the current election season did strike me as pointed. Bear with me before I get to that. The play itself is not strongly political, although it does take up the way that politics can affect us personally. Hedwig grows up as a "girly boy" in Berlin, a divided city. He meets an American soldier who convinces him to have sex-change surgery so he can move to the States with him. He agrees, but the surgery is botched, leaving him with a "one-inch mound of angry flesh."
Although Hedwig assumes the gender of a female, it's incorrect to refer to her as transgendered. Anatomically, she is neither sex. A repeating theme of the play is that, like the wall that divides Berlin, she occupies a liminal world, an "in-between world." Under the spell of the Platonic myth that love is a result of finding one's "missing half," thus ending the sense of being caught in the liminal, Hedwig's unwanted task is to come to a less idealized notion of love and being.
Her solution, it turns out, is not so much a compromise as a reframing. She learns to give up her delusion that someone else can make her whole. Tommy, the rock star she has pursued, sings: "... when everything starts breaking down,/You take the pieces off the ground/And show this wicked town/something beautiful and new."
In other words: Hedwig's gift, as an inhabitant of the liminal, is to be able to create something beautiful out of the unthinkable, the marginalized, the abandoned, the remnants. Wholeness is beside the point. The creativity of what the French call the "bricoleur" is what matters.
This message is much clearer in the original production because the sense of the outrageous and the discontinuous is much more heightened. Like the movie, this staging eliminates the "queerest" song from the original production, "Freaks," along with the most sexual song, "Nailed," which links the erotic to Christ's crucifixion. Also missing is "In Your Arms Tonight," a romantic ballad that adds feeling beyond Hedwig's lust and obsession for Tommy. These three songs are explicit celebrations of oddity.
There's an obvious explanation for dropping the songs. The story becomes more comfortable to people who don't want to think about the actual lust and love between gay people and especially not the delight they take in being different: "We are freaks who fuck who we please and do what we choose/We're not bad, we're not diseased or confused." In a way, the Actor's Express production and the movie violate Hedwig's main message to cultivate, not hide, your oddity.
How does this relate to the political in a general way? In the last few weeks, we've seen Barack Obama, the bricoleur of the left, start making moves to the right. Several of these have been shocking, like his decision to support the new FISA bill that he earlier said he would filibuster. The bill eviscerates the Fourth Amendment. There's much more.
Thus Obama is turning on his progressive base, on those freaks of the left, many of whom are still too starry-eyed to admit it. Like Hedwig at the outset, Obama wants to find his "other half," all those others he can convince to love him. The harder he tries, the more ridiculous he and his message look.
Democrats just never seem to get Hedwig's message: You don't have to pretend to be a "normal" Republican to win.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology. For his blog and information on his private practice, go to www.cliffbostock.com.
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