San Francisco Theater Review: HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (Boxcar Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on August 8, 2013

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

EXTRA INCHES

East Berlin expat Hedwig was forced to leave a rather important bit of himself—later herself—behind the Wall in order to pass physical exams and immigrate to America with the G.I. of her dreams. Move ahead one year: impoverished, divorced and the casualty of a distortedly bungled gender removal procedure, creator John Cameron Mitchell’s counterculture hero(ine) devotes her nights to performing at a dump Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of Boxcar Theatre's HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH in San Francisco.while her substantially more successful musical apprentice (and unrequited love), Tommy Gnosis, plays a packed stadium nearby.

It’s a pitch-black premise made appetizing, even uplifting, by Mitchell’s wicked sense of humor and the recognizable, stinging urge for love, connection and emancipation that accentuates the gorgeous (and raucously funny) monologue in which the tale of Hedwig (“a girly slip of a boy”) is told. Coupled with Stephen Trask’s fabulous pastiches of androgynous 1970s glam-rock, Hedwig has developed into a queen for the ages (Trask’s score is styled after Lou Reed, Lennon, Iggy Pop, and most explicitly, David Bowie). Even before the 2001 film came out, I caught Hedwig at the Jane Street Theatre in 1998, and the cult following was already firmly entrenched. Revivals are ubiquitous around the country and Broadway producers are ready to bank on the show’s immense popularity: A version—starring Neil Patrick Harris, no less—is on the way.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of Boxcar Theatre's HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH in San Francisco.Yet if you attend Boxcar’s imaginative production of Hedwig, a Broadway outing just doesn’t make sense: One of the most powerful aspects is the intimacy of the show—a small gathering of patrons is the perfect context for this “internationally ignored” song stylist who is playing to (and interacting with) pitifully miniscule crowds. Since we are meant to feel a part of the act, director Nick A. Olivero has transformed Boxcar Theatre into a dive “restaurant” with tables. Now you can eat pub food and imbibe beer, wine and a few Hedwig-themed cocktails as you watch Hedwig search for the missing piece of herself that will make her finally whole.

Olivero has also split Hedwig into 8 Hedwigs as a way to see the many sides of her character: male/female, tough/vulnerable, independent/yearning, campy/world-wise, angry/hurting, bitter/accepting. While some of the takes are more successful Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of Boxcar Theatre's HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH in San Francisco.and entrancing than others, the concept works as these hard-working, soul-singer performers move about the space with feverish abandon (cast members subject to change). If the chair you are sitting in is bolted to the ground, it means that actors will be flying past you, each wearing a version of the over-the-top Farrah Fawcett-like wig that our first Hedwig is wearing. While this Hedwig is more of a kick-ass party than previous outings, the cast still manages to find the heart of the show, even as the entire she-bang feels totally improvised. Remaining in the show are a killer band (“The Angry Inch’), characters from Hedwig’s past, and Hedwig’s co-performer, the antagonistic Yitzhak. The only issue with this rambunctious and rousing production is the same one that impaired the original production: Trask’s lyrics remain indiscernible at times. This is a shame, because we want to get every juicy inch we can.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of Boxcar Theatre's HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH in San Francisco.

photos by Peter Liu

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Boxcar Theatre
505 Natoma St (at 6th St between Mission & Howard)
scheduled to end on August 31, 2013
for tickets, call 415.967.BCAR (2227) or email boxoffice@boxcartheatre.org
for more info, visit http://www.boxcartheatre.org

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