The term “drama queen” might have been invented to describe Hedwig, the namesake character of the show currently creating mayhem at the AllWays Lounge and Theatre. Part of her drama has to do with her “angry inch” — what’s left of an unsuccessful sex change operation. But understanding precisely what took place anatomically, geographically or in any other way is not what this show is about.
The play happens on the bandstand in the front room of the AllWays Lounge. Whom Do You Work For?, a rocking three-piece band, plays a set before the show and provides the show’s musical accompaniment. Hedwig (the high-voltage Evan Spigelman) enters wearing a white wig, glamorous drag and an American flag cape. He is joined by his partner Yitzhak (Nat Kusinitz). Yitzhak also can cut loose, but wears jeans and a denim jacket and keeps a lower profile.
Hedwig tells her life story: She is a little-known singer who grew up in East Berlin in the ’60s. She is a rocker — and an attractive rocker for all the gender confusion. Think of The Rolling Stones fronted by a transvestite Mick Jagger. Trying to connect the dots of how Hedwig got from East Berlin to Kansas requires more discernment than I can boast. The high level of chaos distracts from but doesn’t ruin the fun. An excellent, less-frantic version of Hedwig at the Shim Sham Club (now One Eyed Jacks) in 2001 laid out the narrative more clearly. (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, premiered Off Broadway in 1998.)
Surprisingly, one of the key (off-stage) figures in the puzzle is Plato. For it’s in Plato’s Symposium, during a discussion of love, that we first learn the myth of hermaphrodites, the presiding spirits of Hedwig’s world.
Hermaphrodites were double creatures — one body, four arms, four legs and two sexual organs. An angry God divided them, and love is what we feel when we search for our missing half.
This myth unites Hedwig’s story more than the various episodes. For it’s a story of divisions. The world was divided by the Berlin Wall. Hedwig is divided by her unrealized sexual identity. How can we put the divided back together?
Among the distinctive visual attractions of the show are simple projections by Kusinitz. They have a childish charm and bring to mind the shadow puppet shows popular in the first Parisian cabarets. Although Hedwig taken as a whole (and that’s the type of double entendre Hedwig thrives on) harks back to Weimar decadence.
Anna Henschel directed this explosive production for Skin Horse Theater company. Bradley Black handled the musical direction, and Veronica Hunsinger-Loe designed the costumes.
The show goes on a bit long, and unless you’re a young bohemian or an aging hippie, you may find the band’s opening set punishing on your eardrums.
Thru Jan 21
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
8 p.m. Fri.-Sat. & Mon. Jan. 11-12 & 14
8 p.m. Thu.-Fri. & Mon. Jan. 17-18 & 21
AllWays Lounge & Theatre, 2240 St. Claude Ave., (504) 218-5778