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Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask and a text and lead performance by John Cameron Mitchell, took New York’s downtown scene by storm when it opened on Valentine’s Day, 1998, in what was then the far reaches of Greenwich Village’s Meatpacking District. It snapped up the off-Broadway theatre awards and ran more than two years. A film followed, also starring Mitchell, and Hedwig was produced throughout the US and other locales. In 2014 Neil Patrick Harris led a Broadway production that ran for more than a year and, improbably, as this was the show’s Broadway debut, won the Tony™ Award for Best Revival of a Musical.

Jeremy Wilson
Photos by Simpatika

What started out as a trendsetting shocker – a glam/punk score supporting what was, at the time, deemed to be a “drag” performance – over time became mainstream, with well-known performers clamoring to portray a desperate German man who had a botched sex change operation (hence, the “angry inch”) as a way of being able to immigrate to the US with his American soldier boyfriend. So, when Diversionary Theatre’s Matt Morrow decided to stage a “20th Anniversary Legacy Production,” Morrow was not reaching into the archives to resurrect some forgotten treasure. Rather, the “legacy” was Morrow’s own encounters with the early Hedwig, which shaped a life in the theatre.

The show is staged as a cabaret, where Hedwig (Jeremy Wilson) is reflecting on emerging as “genderqueer” after immigrating to the US, breaking up with the soldier, and partnering with a man named Yitzhak (Cashaè Monya), who Hedwig persuades to give up being a drag performer. Coincidentally, there is a concert by Hedwig’s protégé, Tommy Gnosis, across the street, and Hedwig periodically opens the door so that he can taunt Gnosis for his success while Hedwig plays dive joints with his band, also known as “The Angry Inch.” The band is an integral part of the show, and it’s worth mentioning that its members are Patrick Marion on keyboard (also, music director), Jim Mooney on guitar, Linda Libby on Bass, and David Rumley on drums.

Cashaè Monya

Morrow’s production interpolates references to some local people and places, with varying degrees of success, but it focuses on how “genderqueer” differs from drag, the latter being a performance, while the former the result of an ongoing quest for identity. Wilson embodies this quest with a somewhat melancholy performance that struggles with its drag component. Monya embodies it as resentment for having a quest interrupted. The result is something of a theatre of cruelty, interrupted by gags and songs, including one that the audience knows and to which it readily sings along.

In some ways, Hedwig and the Angry Inch feels like a throwback to a long-gone era, but by the end there is a real sense of sadness reflecting how drag performers are accepted, even adored, which genderqueer people are not. Maybe that’s the real legacy, and undoubtedly one that Morrow intends with the production. This Hedwig wants to be cutting-edge, and it is, if you allow it to be.

[box]Diversionary’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch has been extended twice and is now scheduled to close on May 5, 2019. The theatre is located in busy University Heights and relies on street parking, so an early arrival is recommended. The show performs Thursdays at 7, Fridays and Saturdays at 8, and Sundays at 2. Other production credits: Scenic Designer: Justin Humphres; Costume Designer: Elisa Benzoni; Sound Designer: Matt Lescault-Wood; Lighting Designer: Curtis Mueller; Projection Designer: Adam J. Thompson; Properties Designer: Colleen E. Keith; Wigs and Makeup: Peter Herman; Choreographer: Michael Mizerany; Dialect Coach: David Huber; Stage Manager: Kira Vine. This review was based on the March 31, 2019, performance.

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Diversionary Theatre
Work 4545 Park Boulevard #101 San Diego CA 92116 USA Work Phone: 619.220.0097 Website: Diversionary Theatre website
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Bill Eadie

Bill Eadie

In addition to reviewing theatre for San Diego Story, Bill also reviews for TalkinBroadway.com. He is a member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and the American Theatre Critics Association. Bill is an emeritus professor in the School of Journalism and Media Studies at San Diego State University.

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar Ken Herman on April 4, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    The history of this work and its social context makes for rewarding reading, Bill. From your oblique description of the leads in this production, I cannot tell if this is a successful production or not. What is the caliber of the acting and direction? Are the musicians skilled or just adequate? What would have improved this production? And how can a production be “cutting-edge” only if the audience members “allows” it to be. Is the rendition of a Shakespeare soliloquy moving only if you allow it to be so?

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