Tonight, after weeks of trying to make it happen, Lisa and I finally made it out to see the American Theater Company's production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. We were the beneficiaries of not one, but two extensions of its run, and I shudder to think that we almost let ourselves miss it.
Unlike A Chorus Line, which did not live up to the high expectations that I had built up in my mind, this tiny production of Hedwig more than exceeded my wildest hopes. I was fully prepared to hate this version, given that the movie is my all-time favorite film, and the songs have come to mean so much to me across the span of my late adolescence.
For those of you who aren't familiar, (and I'm guessing, based on who leaves comments here, that most of you aren't) Hedwig and the Angry Inch tells the story of a "slip of a girly boy" in Communist East Berlin who undergoes an unsuccessful gender reassignment surgery in order to escape to freedom in the West, only to find that the American dream is just that -- a fantasy. Along the way, she searches for her soul mate, only to discover that she doesn't need her other half to be complete after all. You're probably thinking, "How can Haley possibly relate to some crazy story about a Eastern European drag queen?" but it's really so much more than that.
In my interpretation, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is primarily a story about discovering your place in the world, and coming to terms with your own identity. I think those are powerful and universal themes, regardless of who is expressing them. Plus, Lisa and I discovered the film together during high school, which is a trying time in the formation of anyone's sense of self. There was a song to cater to any emotional tribulation that might arise. The character of Hedwig, and her journey to self-acceptance, are so intrinsically bound up in my relationship with Lisa, that I almost can't imagine our friendship without Hedwig.
To me, John Cameron Mitchell, who first created the character, originated the role in the off-Broadway musical, and reprised the role for the film version, is the consummate Hedwig. I really didn't expect that anyone else could even begin to compare, but somehow, Nick Garrison, who played Hedwig in this version, was more than up to the task. He really sounded just like John Cameron Mitchell. And his performance was brutally intense. You could clearly read every emotion in his eyes. With such a minimalist production, its success completely depended on the strength of Hedwig, and Garrison delivered, without a doubt.
Although I was none to keen on being spit on in one of Hedwig's more punk-inspired moments, I was at least glad to be in the third row, and thereby avoid the Chinese food and fake blood that she threw at the people in the front row. Truly, my only regret is that we didn't make it out to see it at the beginning of its run, so I could have seen it twice. It was that good.