Theater Review: HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre in Evanston)

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by Lawrence Bommer on June 18, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


It’s a perverse Pride Month offering that cocks a snoot at authority and respectability: “I’m the new Berlin Wall — try to tear me down!” That defiant dare marks the flaming arrival of Hedwig Schmidt, survivor-heroine of John Cameron Mitchell’s riveting 1998 rock opera, a work that inevitably honors the freak-show pizzazz of The Who’s Tommy. In what should prove a boffo run at Evanston’s Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, its wide-open space barely containing this propulsive glam-rock rouser, Toma Tavares Langston’s pile-driving, funny and scary 90-minute staging features Will Lidke in a role so rich in ardor and ambiguity that a single viewing can barely tap it.

Twenty years after its inception, Hedwig and the Angry Inch remains a defiant assertion of a genderqueer trailblazer who Mitchell calls not a transwoman but “a gender of one and that is accidentally so beautiful.” Her wearing the dismissive slogan, “I Really Don’t Care, Do You?” makes much more sense than Melania Trump. She’s nothing if not true to her own sex, proudly proclaiming that “I’m famous for my big openings” and how much she appreciates “a warm hand at my entrance.”

As “wide open” as her tabloid life, a pole-dancing Hedwig performs with The Angry Inch, her four-person back-up band, and with Yitzak, her glum, current husband, a frustrated drag queen in his own wrong. The story that this “internationally ignored song stylist” tells through Stephen Trask’s ten terrific numbers fairly scorches the stage. Formerly known as Hansel, this “slip of a girly boy” from East Berlin fell for a G.I. who preferred him female. A botched sex change left her with “an angry inch” of souvenir penis and a ticket to America.

Abandoned by her soldier in a trailer park in Junction City, Kansas, Hedwig is drawn to Tommy Speck (soon to be transformed to “Tommy Gnosis”), a teen who the yearning Hedwig believes is really her other self (as in Plato’s belief that lovers are separated at birth and must find each other to complete their coming). Thanks to Hedwig, Gnosis becomes a rock star–and never thanks her.

By the end Hedwig has absorbed Gnosis and frees Yitzak to become his other self. Blending Dame Edna with Lipsinka, Hedwig’s act of desperation is spellbinding stuff. In a performance that towers even over the wigs, Lidke tears into Hedwig’s meltdown with awesome authenticity, working the crowd into contagious bliss. The irresistible score varies from the country-western verve of “Sugar Daddy” to the go-for-broke anguish of “Exquisite Corpse,” a primal ballad that ushers in the redemptive finale.

Passively partnering the gender-breaking Lidke, Brittney Brown provides a kind of reality base from which the show delightfully departs. Colt Frank’s grungy scenery, a graffiti gallery in its own right, and apt projections are powerful parts of an unforgettable production. Sassy and brassy, this Hedwig proves that damaged goods can finds its way to glory.

photos by Austin D. Oie

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
Howard Street Theatre, 721 Howard Street in Evanston
Thurs-Sat at 7:30; Sun at 7
ends on July 28, 2019
for tickets, call 773.347.1109  or visit Theo U

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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