The Angry Inch slowly comes on stage, tuning instruments while the bassist banters with the audience in her thick, German accent. Hedwig's assistant, husband and backup singer Yitzhak (played by director JoEllen Ussery) comes to the stage to say that Hedwig is in the dressing room, being a diva again and the show will start momentarily. Minutes later Hedwig arrives draped in an American flag and red, white and blue platform boots. She takes the stage, winning the heart of every single person in the room.
John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" ran off-broadway for 857 performances. For most of that time, Mitchell played Hedwig and played her beautifully, giving any other actor stepping into those boots a tough act to follow. The show eventually played around the world, before landing on Broadway in 2014 with Neal Patrick Harris as Hedwig, giving a performance that could stand comfortably next to Mitchell's. Now, finally, Hedwig has landed in Bend for two short weekends.
"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" tells the story of Hedwig Robinson, a genderqueer rock star, playing dive bars and seafood restaurants across the country as she follows her ex-lover Tommy Gnosis on his much more successful rock tour. Periodically throughout the show, Hedwig opens the door (in the Kelly D's banquet room) to hear Tommy's show down the street at the much larger Les Schwab Amphitheater.
Hedwig is fighting with Yitzhak, depressed about Tommy and having one of the worst nights of her life. In between the songs (some of the best from any rock musical of the last few decades), Hedwig tells the audience about her childhood as Hansel Schmidt, an East German "slip of a girlyboy."
Hansel meets a US soldier named Luther Robinson who wants to marry him and head back to America with his new bride. For this to work, Hansel must get a sex change operation to become Luther's wife. The operation is botched and Hedwig is left with an angry inch, where "My penis used to be, where my vagina never was."
Built into the script and performances is the structure of the audience witnessing one of the best/worst night's of Hedwig's life. For audience members who aren't already familiar with the show and think they're just watching a drag show as opposed to a scripted musical, watching Hedwig become more unstable as the evening progresses will be intense.
Jake Woodmansee is a revelation as Hedwig. Fans of Mitchell's Hedwig, will find it to be an incredible experience to see Woodmansee effortlessly dive between the heartbreak, the humor and redemption the play offers. His work here is fearless, kicking a hole in the stage with his platforms at one point, while never threatening to go overboard. Having only done one play prior to this, his work here is genuinely stunning.
Woodmansee explains one of the more difficult aspects of the role offstage is using public bathrooms in full drag. "It is very scary to want to relieve yourself but not end up on the news. Many friends actually thought I was joking when I asked them to accompany me to the restroom for safety and every time I have had to iterate that I am genuinely scared at times to be in public in full drag. Especially with all of this nonsense going on in the news about who is allowed to poop where. I have a solution for all of these bigots: bathroom stalls! If you are aware of what genitalia is in the accompanying stall then you are the pervert, not the person expressing their gender identity. I should add that even as Hedwig I use the male restroom, an inch goes a long way as it were," he says.
Woodmansee's work combined with Ussery's direction and the fantastic Angry Inch Band (the members possessing hilarious and heartbreaking back stories), make "Hedwig" a true beauty onstage. Catharsis, rage, deep belly laughs and the sadness of being singular whip across the stage and make for one of the most memorable nights of theater this town has ever seen.
"Hedwig and the Angry Inch"
May 20, 21, 26, 27, 28, 7:30 p.m.
Kelly D's Irish Sports Bar, 1012 SE Cleveland Ave., Bend
$20 | 21+
Produced by Lurking Squirrel Productions