Brian Peeke’s performance in eXposed Theatre Company’s production of HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH is a tour de force. Jennifer Staffenberg directs the show, staged in the Power Plant Production’s gritty basement theater. The rock musical, with text by John Cameron Mitchell and music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, is an odyssey of sorts. Hedwig, born in East Berlin as Hansel, is abandoned by his GI father and raised by a self-absorbed, emotionally distant mother. The lonely themes of his life are echoed in those of East Berlin as a city cut off from its other half and the rest of the world, starved for progress and culture.
Hedwig’s quest for love and acceptance begins as a child. He sings his favorite songs leaning into an oven – the only place he can find to practice in an apartment so cramped he must share a bed with his mother. He finds love in the arms of a Corporal, who will marry him and bring him to the US only if he has a sex change operation. In “The Angry Inch” Hedwig describes the botched operation, which leaves behind only a nub of flesh. Peeke sings with guts and emotion. His rocker-punk vocals belie his drag queen persona, which he also carries off beautifully. The excellent band (Jason Neri, piano and Musical Director, Wes Schaal, drums, Angelo Pinto, bass, Joe Baglia, guitar) – a mere extension of Hedwig – is called the Angry Inch.
The show is peppered with barbed one-liners, lending to its cabaret, stand-up comedy flavor. “If you’re good, later on I’ll let you shave my back,” he tells Yitzhak, his Serbian husband. Sung powerfully by Rachel Pinkstone-Marks, Yitzhak is the only other character on the stage, serving as a back-up vocalist, and most importantly, the object of Hedwig’s condescension and wrath.
Hedwig relates the story of his professional and personal demise, while weaving in an out of various characters, accents, and attitudes. One of these characters is his old flame, Tommy Gnosis, a rocker who gets the fame and recognition Hedwig feels he himself deserves. The boom box, which Yitzhak turns on to taunt Hedwig, plays Gnosis’s concert and is a constant reminder to Hedwig of the success that eludes him. Hedwig is consumed with jealousy, yet he pines for Tommy, the young man who refused to love the ‘front’ of him. This rejection makes Hedwig’s search for his other half more poignant, and sorrowful. It’s a reminder of what he gave up and can never get back – something that makes him an oddity.
Finally, at the end of the show, Hedwig seems to make some peace with his identity and not-so-subtle need for domination. He lets Yitzhak have his moment in the spotlight – in full make-up and drag – a pleasure and an identity he had forbidden him.
HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH
Book by John Cameron Mitchell
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Trask
Directed by Jennifer Staffenberg
January 21 – 29, 2011 (Final Performance – tonight at Midnight!)
eXposed Theatre Company
performed at Power Plant Productions
233 Bread Street
www.smarttix.com (keyword Hedwig)