July 14, 2013
“Honey, if you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love someone else?…..Can I get an amen?”
RuPaul’s Drag Race, seasons 1 – Eternity
(Cambridge) It is difficult to come up with something new to say about Hedwig and her angry inch. It’s an amazing show with brilliant music. It’s easy to do well as long as the leading lady gives herself freely to her audience and the art. Even bad performances can be good so long as the performers remain sincere. Rose Tinted Productions’ version of Hedwige and the Angry Inch sits somewhere in the middle – it’s not mediocre but it isn’t revolutionary either. The cast, band and crew are dedicated to Hedwig’s story. That’s more than enough reason to attend.
Hedwig née Hansel (JJ Parkey) is a rare specimen of woman that rises from adversity to use her bitterness as art to entice and distract. She’s a thrashed, White-trash woman who believes she can’t know wholeness unless she tears it from someone else. She’s not going to pretend that life is dandy and she doesn’t want us to pretend either. She’s a woman on the edge: of womanhood, manhood, sanity and success. Hailing from schadenfreude’s origin, her execution is flawless. The audience is entertained to the point of sympathetic incapability.
Parkey and Stephens sing like Rock ‘N Roll angels. Their roles fit like a second skin. They transcend the psychoses (and terrible wigs) of Hedwig and Yitzhak like phoenix from flames. What’s more, they are pensive islands unto each other but remain accessible to the audience. They maintain a fine balance of art and artifice. By the close of the show, the audience isn’t just cheering for them; we are cheering for heroes.
Director Ben Skinner chose to put strong focus on Hedwig’s relationships in this beautifully grotesque production. The results are equal parts terrifying and electrifying. As much as Hedwig rails against her past abuses at the hands of others none equal the torment that she causes herself on a daily basis. The entire concert is a long list of abandonments and exploitations. She travels with her long-term partner, backup singer and roadie, Yitzhak (Ruthie Stephens). Hedwig treats Yitzhak with the same disdain she experienced from others. The cherry on the crap sandwich of their existence is the impartial band, The Angry Inch, who watch as abuse is hurled in either direction.
What makes their coexistence so tragic is the severe lack of love between them. Hedwig spends the show seeking the same love she denies Yitzhak. She desperately needs a psychiatrist, Xanax and most of all compassion from others and for herself. It’s a wonder that Hedwig manages to perform at all.
RuPaul , Drag legend, ends every episode of her Drag Race with an admonition to the audience to ruthlessly love itself. If Hedwig and/or Yitzhak had heeded this message, we wouldn’t have this glorious musical. If they had received this message, countless people wouldn’t be touched by Hedwig’s message. If she had received this message, maybe she’d be a complete person.