Critic's Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Runs through Sept. 29, 8 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 4 p.m. Sun., Shimberg Playhouse at the Straz Center, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa, $28. jobsitetheater.org.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, as presented by Jobsite Theater, is just plain fun. Thank Spencer Meyers, who as Hedwig emphasizes his character’s pathos, victimization and solidarity with the audience. This isn’t the only way in which the part can be played. In past years I’ve seen two other Hedwigs who consistently menaced us spectators, taunted and mocked us and made it clear that they favored the S of S&M. Not so Meyers. Although he plays up Hedwig’s vanity, he also assures us that she’s in most ways a softie who welcomes our good wishes and needs our support. No dragon lady; just underdog. How can you not wish her well?
After all, the story she tells us directly and in song (with the help of her three-person band, The Angry Inch) is of innocent boy Hansel who grew up in East Germany and was loved by an American military man who first took him for a girl. Sgt. Luther Robinson even offered to marry the youth, providing he underwent a sex-change operation first. Hansel/Hedwig had the operation – but it was botched, and left her with a one-inch strip of skin where her genitals should have been. After a year in the States, the sergeant divorced her, and the only hopeful area of her life was her discovery that she had some talent as a rock musician. Then she met Tommy Speck, a general’s son, and recognized instantly that he was the soulmate for whom she’d always been meant. She taught him to be a rocker — but he ran out on her soon after discovering her featureless mound. Now she wanders from gig to gig, telling her sad story and singing to small crowds while Tommy Speck — whom she renamed Tommy Gnosis — sells out enormous auditoria. The 90 minutes we spend with her add up to one such engagement.
And it’s loud and rousing. The levity begins when Hedwig flounces on stage wrapped in red, white, and blue, and sporting a blonde wig that’s as exaggerated as her epic makeup. She introduces us to The Angry Inch — a guitarist (shirtless Jonathan Cho), bassist (Jana Doan) and drummer (Woody Bond) — and also to her husband Yitzhak (bearded Amy Gray, looking like Johnny Depp). Hedwig entertains us with sex jokes (“When it comes to huge openings, a lot of people think of me”) and segues from monologues to songs, some of them raucous, others surprisingly tender. And she tells us her story, digressing only to sing of the Creation Myth behind her undying love for Tommy Gnosis. According to this legend, the original humans were double until God decided to split them all into individuals. Therefore every single person on earth is literally correct in thinking that his/her other half is out there somewhere, waiting to be reunited with its original partner. Hedwig first thought her counterpart might be Sgt. Robinson, but eventually realized that Tommy and Tommy alone could complete her.
Making the Jobsite production a winning effort is David Jenkins’ kinetic direction and fine video design. The latter consists of illustrations projected on a screen over Brian Smallheer’s minimalist set. I especially liked the cartoons illustrating the creation and dissevering of the original humans — and the look, on a spiritual level, of Hedwig and Tommy’s reunion, were it ever to occur.
But I only moderately enjoyed the show’s 10 not-terribly-distinctive songs, music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, and as for John Cameron Mitchell’s book, it’s ingratiating without ever rising to the level of real significance. But maybe it’s wrong to want more: Hedwig began as a show in a New York City rock and roll drag bar, and works best as a kind of ad hoc, off-beat novelty. If Hedwig’s genital void doesn’t finally turn out to mean much, if Yitzhak’s contempt for Hedwig is under-dramatized, if the Tommy Gnosis subplot never genuinely flowers, still the show is an unusual and pleasing entertainment. In this version particularly, you’ll sympathize with poor, abandoned Hedwig.