Review: Hedwig and the Angry Inch by John Cameron Mitchell and Steven Trask (Nov. 22)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Director Dean Eldon Squibb has transformed the Vortex Theatre into the seedy Hotel Riverside Café in New York City—with waitresses, tables, and tufted leather booths.

There a fierce and feisty transsexual is performing with a smoking rock band—“Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Written by John Cameron Mitchell with music and lyrics by Steven Trask, “Hedwig” is about the physical and emotional travels and travails of the central character. He begins life in East Berlin as Hansel Schmidt but becomes Hedwig Schmidt who performs with her band. She begins the play with the question, “How did some slip of a girly boy from communist East Berlin become the internationally ignored song stylist barely standing before you?” The musical provides the answers. The song “Angry Inch” tells of Hansel’s botched sex change operation that left Hedwig with an uncomfortable reminder of gender. In “Tear Me Down” we learn that Hedwig identifies with the Berlin Wall that splits her city and country in two: East/West, Slavery/Freedom. She is haunted by other dichotomies: male/female, alienated/accepted. In “The Origin of Love,” Hedwig relates a modified creation story in which people existed as “rolling kegs” with four arms and legs and two faces on a single head. The gods then split these beings into humans, but the sense of separation and incompleteness remains. To Hedwig, sex is a way to bring the disparate halves together, and she yearns for her perfect match that will make her whole. We hear of her various romantic relationships (one brings her to the States), all of which end in pain. Hedwig’s division is, however, also within herself. She feels alienated in an imperfect body and perplexed about her gender. Her experiences toughen her and prepare her to accept her male identity. The show is not, however, a medical treatise or tabloid exposé. It is loud (but not painfully so), raunchy, and diverting. Initially dressed in fringed denim vest and skirt, black corset, and boots, Brian Lucero pours his heart into the role of Hedwig. He jumps and whirls about the stage during his rock numbers, though his ballads have some pitch problems. Lucero’s vivacious performance entertains as it enlightens. He is supported by a fine rock band (Vertigo Venus) and his weird, cross-dressed companion Yitzhak (Krissy Straub). Slap on a tattoo and join the audience.

If You Go

WHAT: “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” by John Cameron Mitchell and Steven Trask

WHEN: Thursdays (except Nov 27), Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 6 p.m. through December 21

WHERE: The Vortex Theatre, 2004½ Central, SE HOW MUCH: $20. Reservations 247-8600