Angry Times @ Broadway In Chicago

Theatre Review by Angela Allyn

3 Stars out of 4

As you enter the Rococo over the top ornateness of Broadway in Chicago’s Oriental Theatre, you will find the floor littered with Playbills.   Pick one up: they are hysterical.  They are for Hurt Locker, the Musical, the fictional production which has provided the bombed out setwith the torched car you are looking at as you take your seat, a touring set designed by Julian Crouch and neatly tucked in to the hallucinogenic proscenium.  The premise of this updated version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch  with book by John Cameron Mitchell and music and lyrics by Stephen Trask is that this “punk” rock Eastern European derived band is taking over the  theatre recently vacated by the six hour musical which opened and closed before its second intermission.  Part loud rock concert, part one WoMan life story monologue, the show alternatively draws you in and then assaults you with noise and lights and pain. Which is so perfect and fitting for right now.

When it first premiered in 1998, Hedwig was a groundbreaking genderbending work that grew out of the world it purports to represent. We live in a different time: the production is a bit quantum in its time sequencing since it refers to growing up on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall, which would make this Hedwig pushing AARP age which she clearly is not.  I stopped trying to figure out the timeline and just went zen and followed the story as an out of time experience. Because even though the times have changed, the world has not. Our world is quite cruel to those it perceives of as Other.

Hannah Corneau in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch". Photo by Joan Marcus.

Hedwig, played with YUGENESS by Euan Morton, is not so much transgendered as gender fluid: a larger than life personality that doesn’t’ check off any box. A botched sex change operation that was supposed to be her ticket out of Berlin left her suspended in between the gender binary. As far as the road of life, well,  Hedwig has been there and done that, as the bombed out car visually indicates. But like all of us, she is looking for completion. She did not find it with her first husband, Luther, who left her for a man.  From the looks of the codependent and cruel relationship she has with her current husbandYitzhak (the supremely talented Hannah Corneau who uses a thousand voices to play theJewish drag queen from Zagreb), she will not have luck there either. She is not finding it with her talented band The Angry Inch(the unpronounceable Skszpplayed by Justin Craig who also serves as music director , Jacek the soulful  bass player played by Matt Duncan, Krzyzhtoffthe rangy guitarist played by Tim Mislock and Schlatko the punchline punctuating drummer by Peter Yanowitz).

Hedwig believes her ex singing partner, the now enormously successful Tommy Gnossis who is performing right out the back door,  is literally her other half, but the religious army brat she mentored into a career left her when it became clear she was not a full on female.  On International Womans Day, when I watched the show, I began to wonder just exactly being a WoMan means.

In the end, Hedwig completes herself in the awkward battle worn acceptance mode that comes with a lot of miles on the odometer, and the show asks more questions than it answers, while leaving you deaf and blind the way a good show at the Metro might.

This cast has the pipes and the star power to rock you out of your seat, but when the entire US government subjects anyone who is Other to invasive interrogation on a daily basis, when people are dying by violence in our streets on a daily basis, when our leaders talk carnage and cruelty on a daily basis, this show seems of a piece with the harsher louder brighter impulses of our baser nature. Art imitating life? Yes , the script acknowledges much of what is going on: there’s on ongoing immigration joke—but its like a knife in your side, not a pull at your heart. In another venue in another time, I once saw the compassion of this story; I felt the empathy.  In this version of the show I saw too much of the narcissism on view every day with another blond. I saw the rage.  I saw how pain festers and hurts. Yitzhak and the band were the ones really listening, and I felt for them. 

The redemption at the end comes, I think because of compassion, and this show needs to tip the balance to more of that. Morton showboats through the pain, but we need to see and feel the vulnerability behind it. We need a theatre of deep complexity to answer this time when the Berlin wall is inside of us. Today, we need Hedwig to show us where it hurts, give us a moment and the space to feel it.

It is a beautiful thing to see a showagain as the world and its audience change.  Live theatre is ever a conversation, and it’s a new one every time you walk in the door.

You don’t have much time to see this show: it plays at the Oriental Theatre  24 West Randolph, Chicago, from Tuesday through Sunday until March 19th. For tickets and information go to http://www.broadwayinchicago.com/show/hedwig-and-the-angry-inch/  or go to http://www.theatreinchicago.com/hedwig-and-the-angry-inch/8351/.