Once again, the tiny Joyce Doolittle theatre has been utterly transformed. This time, we find ourselves ushered into a seedy nightclub, with tiny cabaret tables crowded together and flanking a run-down but still decidedly garish stage. After a few minutes, during which the audience sips cocktails and chats, the lights go down and the band takes the stage in precisely the same slightly weary manner in which every band who has been touring too long takes the stage. But then they launch into their set, the spotlights spring to life, and Hedwig struts out to greet us in all her magnificence. Suddenly the place comes alive with the energy of a bona fide rock concert. She struts, she stomps, she flirts and does a little lapdance for an audience member. She is gloriously outrageous.
The role of Hedwig is a demanding one for any actor. It demands the versatility to convincingly belt out close to a dozen songs in a German accent, to capture the spotlight with the right blend of charisma and heartbreak, and to wear an ultra mini with fuzzy red Docs and fishnets. Geoffrey Ewert not only captures this role beautifully with just the right combination of bravado and pathos, but channels every tormented transgendered cabaret performer who ever drowned her pain in her act. Between songs, Hedwig regales us with an impudent recounting of her life, her journey from an East German “slip of a girlyboy” who endured a botched gender change operation in order to marry an American soldier who promises a new life in the west, her abandonment in a Midwest trailer park, her rise to fame with her soul mate, Tommy Gnosis, whom she nurtured and groomed for life as a rock star, and ultimately how she came to be playing this seedy Calgary club.
While Hedwig and her band, the Angry Inch, are reduced to performing in dives like the one we see her in (“just across the river from the Saddledome”), her former song-writing partner and ex-lover, Tommy Gnosis is playing to sold out arena crowds. In fact, he is performing at the Saddledome that very night, and his performance is periodically played on the four television screens that dot the stage, a fact that is used as a cruel weapon by Hedwig’s current romantic partner and band-mate, Yitzhak.
Yitzhak, who is played by Jamie Konchak sporting one of the most perplexing beards ever to grace a stage (but whose powerful and masterful voice more than makes up for it), is perpetually under Hedwig’s indomitable control. Lashing out against her with images of Tommy’s superstar status is his reaction to being forbidden to embrace the woman he sees himself as being.
The Origin of Love, one of the showcase songs of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, recounts the mythology of humans as originally being comprised of two beings which were split apart by angry and jealous gods, and our subsequent search for our other half. Hedwig has spent her whole life searching for the soul-mate who will make her whole again, and in the play’s finale, she is ultimately stripped of all disguises. As she hands her coveted wig to Yitzhak, she trades in the glam persona which has nurtured her through the years for the possibility of finding real love.
In producing Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the cast and crew of Sage Theatre have taken a highly acclaimed cult classic and, while remaining true to the bittersweet and surprisingly complex story, they bring a local flavour and immediacy to it by setting it in the Pumphouse Theatre. It’s a clever little bit of art imitating life imitating art and it’s just a small part of what makes Sage Theatre’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch so successful and so memorable.
You can catch Hedwig through March 15, with special midnight performances added on March 7 and 14.