04 October, 2006

munkey's-eye view

(Showtune Productions, Athaneum Theatre, October 1st)

I laugh because I would cry if I did not.

An Off-Broadway sensation in 1998, and a successful indie film three years later, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the baby of writer-director-performer John Cameron Mitchell. Both hilarious and confronting, it explores the life of a singer-songwriter from East Berlin, who - after a botched sex-change operation - finds herself in a life of limbo: between male and female, between Communist East and Capitalist West, between success and failure, bitterness, regret, resentment and love. She struggles to make her way as a performer, nursing the bitter wounds inflicted by a former lover
- a Christian glam-rocker who stole her songs and became a superstar, leaving Hedwig to comtemplate what she has lost.

Given the work is almost a one-man show, any production surely hangs on the casting of the central character. Having invented, developed and originated the role on both stage and screen, Mitchell leaves some very big stilettos to fill. However Sydney performer iOTA is more than up to the task. He is a revelation as the complex, charismatic Hedwig. From the wistful opening lines of Bowie-esque "Wig In A Box" to the blistering rock-out of "My Sex Change", he performs the challenging songs by Stephen Trask with a startling force and immediacy. But despite being known as a musician and singer, iOTA is much more than that, providing a masterfully visceral performance and hitting every note of comedy and pathos so powerfully that it is both draining and exhilarating to watch.

The show's one weakness, to my mind, is the relationship between Hedwig and his "Man Friday... through Thursday" Yitzhak. The history of these two mismatched souls who find themselves performing together is briefly explored, but their interaction is played almost entirely for laughs, so that any real intimacy or importance to the realtionship remains unclear. However the levity and disrespect with which Yitzhak's character has been treated, is then contradicted by his/her arc becoming a major centrepiece of the show's finale. I felt this to be a minor flaw in the otherwise beautifully-structured script.

As the show reaches its phenomenal climax - the sound and light building to an almost inbearable intensity - the protagonist's identity is completely deconstructed before our eyes. We see that - as is so often the case with transgender and drag performance - the bravado and innuendo that make up Hedwig's on-stage persona are merely masks: crutches of false confidence for a lonely, disenfranchised man who has never felt like he belongs, and has lost any hope of being "complete". Paradoxically, it is when Hedwig is stripped of all her glamour and pretense - in all her raw, damaged glory - that she is at her most inspiring and life-affirming.

This production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch is, simply put, one of the most exciting things I have ever seen on an Australian stage. If the show is touring in your area in the future, do not hesitate to see it. If you live in Melbourne, and missed it (as I almost did - I believe I saw the very last performance. Thanks Jelly for finally convincing me to go!), pray that it returns.



Post a Comment

<< Home