Thursday, March 06, 2008

Taking the Wig Out Of the Box

Now this is how you finish off your highly successful 10th anniversary season, you book a wildly popular cabaret performer and her “internationally ignored” band and you put on a rousing show.

And that’s exactly what Sage Theatre have done in their final offering of the season. Hedwig and the Angry Inch, that darling of Off-Broadway, is currently tearing up the floorboards over at the Pumphouse Theatre, with a one woman show that is part cabaret rock performance, part confessional.

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.

12 comments:

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I never saw a stage version of this but I loved the movie. I also bought the soundtrack and I play it often. Glad to know you loved it as well.

Toccata said...

Everytime you talk of the Sage Theatre I think, "I have got to get my butt to Calgary and see this place." Your descript of the band taking the stage conjures of such a vivid image. This reader for one knows exactly what you are talking about.

Glad you had so much fun. Hope your niece's plane is on time and that the three of you are able to have a nice visit.

Allison said...

You keep trumping yourself with these reviews Barb. I have such a vivid picture in my mind now I almost feel compelled to hope on a plane and catch the show!

Perhaps I'll settle for the film version. There is a film, yes?

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Dr M, have you heard the tribute/benefit album, Wig in a Box? It's pretty great too, and Rufus Wainwright does a lovely cover of The Origin of Love. There are some samples here.

Toccata, Sage Theatre is one of the first places I will take you when you get around to visiting. I think you'd love the intimate setting.
Hurray for hanging round airports! Much better than Chinook mall on a Saturday.

It's playing until the 15th, Al, surely you can blow off your responsibilities and head over the pond for a play. There is indeed a film version. John Cameron Mitchell, the playwright, both adapted it to film and starred in it. It has quite a different ending from the play, but is well worth watching.

leazwell said...

To see or even hear of such a production around here would be astounding. All the local theater companies are run by people stuck in the Cole Porter era.

mellowlee said...

I totally felt like I was right there with you while reading your review! I hope to see it on stage some day. Maybe I will go rent the movie tonight :O)

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Cole Porter is nice and all, Leazwell, but sometimes you need a little something that reflects reality past the 1930's (although Porter may well have understood the issues of conflicted sexuality). You really must plan a trip up here sometime to see some Canadian theatre.

Oh, ditch work and jet out here to see this production, Mel! I'll even buy you a beer. Although the film is also a good place to start.

Dale said...

I'd love to see the stage version sometime but am a longtime fan of the film and music. Glad you enjoyed it so much Barbara.

Gifted Typist said...

I've been wanting to see that movie and will put it on my movie agenda for next week when I'm off for a do-nuttin' march break.

Great review, BB. That theatre sounds fantastic.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I was struck by how different the stage version was from the film, Dale, the ending in particular. You would have loved the production and really should have been there with us as an honourary Martha.

You have an early March break, Gifted! Enjoy the movie. We should organize an on-line singalong when you're done doin nuttin.

Moxie said...

Awesome writing there. I saw the movie first, then saw it on stage here in LA with Donovan Leitch and Bijou Phillips as Hedwig and Yitzak, respectively. You're right, the stage show is a very different experience than the film and both are freakin' incredible. I would love to sing some of these songs in karaoke, if they're available.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Yes! They would be great to sing at karaoke, Moxie! I've got dibs on Midnight Radio.

I loved both the film and the play too, they both had such different things to offer.