I love this show. I have been a fan of Hedwig since 2003 when I first saw the movie as a freshman in college. Wig in a Box is one of my karaoke go-tos.
I feel it’s important to note that to understand this show, one should appreciate the queer nightlife circuit of drag and cabaret performers and the combination of personal storytelling and camp that defines it. I’m certainly not a part of that scene but I am familiar with some of its more high-profile stars enough to have sense of its aesthetics and its importance to the community. We might look at Justin Vivian Bond, Taylor Mac, Penny Arcade, etc. for some examples. We should be careful when doing this show to not simply steal the aesthetic of drag shows but to incorporate the essential role they play in the community’s survival into our work. Furthermore, if we are not already, we should actually cast and hire people from that community as opposed to wearing them like costumes.
Mold the play into a medium-sized ball, set it before you in the middle distance and squint your eyes. Make the ball small enough that you can see the entire planet, not so small that you lose detail, and not so large that detail overwhelms the whole.Elinor Fuchs, “Visit to a Small Planet”
What is space like on the planet of the play?
Interior. Small. Tight. A DIY squat. A theater that is being squatted in. A cabaret. On the other side of the back wall is Times Square. We are perpetually just a crack away from some loud, popular, party that we weren’t invited to.
What is time like?
Time here behaves according to memory and music. That said, it must have the pace and timing of a well worn cabaret show. We travel 30 years along with the narrator in 1.5 hours. We are also transported to the beginning of time through the music.
What is the climate like?
Humid and electric like right before a storm or a really good, crowded concert in a venue that’s too small and no AC.
What is the mood or tone?
Bitter. Orgasmic. Passionate. Sexy. Reaching for a dream. Yearning for completion. Raw and open and vulnerable. Damaged. Exuberant. Femme. Queer.
What is hidden?
The worlds of Hedwig’s memories which are very claustrophobic, stifling, and oppressive.
The world of Tommy Gnosis’ concert which feels hackneyed and bright.
Yitzhak and the band’s full humanity.
Is this a public or private world?
This is a world that is exceedingly public. As in, the public airing of every private scar, feeling, and grievance is assumed. Therapy, absolution, growth, reconciliation all happens on a stage right in front of us. This is a world where there is no luxury of privacy. Our bodies are constantly on display. Our very existence is a performance.
What are its class rules?
There are those who are successful within the pop culture machine and those who are not. There are those who are considered valid, full human beings based on their bodies and their gender presentations and there are those who are not. If you are not valid, then you are a sideshow.
In what kinds of patterns do the figures on this planet arrange themselves?
There is one central figure: Hedwig. And every other figure is in orbit around her.
How do figures appear on this planet? Are they inward or two-dimensional? Subtle? Exaggerated?
These figures are all performative: that is, they are intentionally showing us the part of themselves they think will please the audience. There are increasingly cracks that show us more.
How do figures dress on this planet?
These figures dress in drag. Whether or not they are dressing in the gender expression they identify with, they are dressing in DRAG.
How do figures interact?
Figures interact through performances. Even the genuine moments of interaction––such as when Hedwig berates Yitzhak and pulls his mic, or when she screams at Tommy through the backdoor––are through the filter of a performance for the sake of us the audience. Everything is through Hedwig’s filter––how it affects Hedwig, how it makes her feel.
Who has power on this planet? How is it achieved? Over whom is it exercised? To what ends is it exercised?
Hedwig lords it over everyone else onstage. She exercises physical and emotional control over Yitzhak and the other bandmates. She commands the attention and adoration of her audience. She punishes every transgression.
What are the language habits on this planet? What kinds of language predominates—of thoughts or of feelings? Is language colorful or flat, clipped or flowing, metaphorical or logical? And what about silences?
The language is full of feelings and color and flowing music. It’s metaphorical and full of subtext. Most of the character growth happens in between the words.
Look at the first image. Now look at the last. Then locate some striking image near the center of the play. Why was it essential to pass through the gate of the central image to get from the first to the last?
First image: Yitzhak, a sullen roadie, makes a rote announcement before Hedwig is lowered onto the stage by parachute.
Middle Image: The eye breaking in two during the origin of love.
Final Image: Yitzhak in stunning drag, belting a clarion note. The eye becoming whole again.
Hedwig becomes whole––or at least begins her journey to becoming whole again at the end. She briefly becomes Tommy Gnosis. And then she gives up her control over Yitzhak, realizing she was doing the same to him that Tommy was doing to her: stealing. Squashing.
We’ve moved from brokenness to wholeness.
We’ve moved from public outcry to private reflection.
We’ve moved from camp and innuendo to sincerity.
We move from Hedwig at the center of the universe to Yitzhak at the center.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is about healing.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is about reconciliation and healing after a traumatic experience.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is about a woman who who experiences an intensely physically and emotionally traumatic experience because of her sexuality and gender expression. She turns to a music career for survival as well as a boy who she thinks is the love of her life. He betrays her. She takes her bitterness out on those around her. In the end, she finds a path to healing through self-love and giving up the spotlight.