ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In Plato’s “Symposium” the character Aristophanes, attempting to define love, recounts a mythical story whereby human beings originally possessed double of everything.
Zeus, however, feared their power and severed the creatures in half. Now each of us spends the rest of our life searching for the half we lost.
That myth is central to the rock musical, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” but in reviews of the show is often mistakenly referred to as Plato’s own explanation of the nature of sexual desire. For Socrates has the last word in the “Symposium,” and as usual he trumps everyone else in argument, including Aristophanes, beautiful and suggestive as the myth might be.
Unfortunately, that is about all the beauty you are going to find in this degenerate and misanthropic musical about a narcissistic transsexual woman who thinks it comical that a busload of deaf children are killed when her boyfriend smashes into the bus while receiving oral sex from her (one child survived, now both deaf and blind). Still more disconcerting is the fact that the audience found this hilarious.
Between the age of 2 and 6 Hansel (later Hedwig) was molested by his father and later seduced by a G.I. who convinced him to have a sex change operation that goes horribly wrong, leaving Hedwig with a one-inch stump where his genitalia used to be. Yet this is a comedy and there was uproarious laughter pretty much from start to finish (and a standing ovation at the end). A typical joke had Hedwig stooping down to touch her toes, posterior to the audience, and declaiming “When it comes to huge openings, a lot of people think of me”; or “When I think of all the people I have come upon in my travels, I cannot help but think of the people who have come upon me”; or “After my divorce, I scraped by with babysitting gigs and odd jobs. Mostly the jobs we call blow.”
The musical is conceived as a rock show touring the United States with Hedwig the leader of her band, “The Angry Inch.” Between songs Hedwig tells the story of her life in the United States and before that in East Berlin (the Berlin Wall’s coming down is a metaphor for removing all barriers).
While the show has the form of a one-person show or even a stand-up comedy routine with intermittent music, there is a supporting character named Yitzhak, a Jewish drag queen from Croatia singing backup, who also happens to be the disgruntled lover of Hedwig. Besides the tasteless jokes, we also have to endure Hedwig verbally abusing Yitzhak throughout the show.
The book was written by John Cameron Mitchell, who also wrote and directed the “explicit sex” film, “Shortbus,” which according to him “employs sex in new cinematic ways because it’s too interesting to leave to porn.”
The music was written by Stephen Trask, and there are some good rock tunes, such as “Wig in a Box” and “Midnight Radio.” The band rocks hard, and Jonathan Gallegos and Kir Kipness are both strong actors and talented singers. Unfortunately, their talent is wasted on a show that has the redeeming value of a backed-up toilet.
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is playing through Nov. 10 at MTS, 6320 Domingo Road. NE, Albuquerque. Go to musicaltheatresw.com for reservations.