Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Olney production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, directed at top volume by Johanna McKeon, also marks the blazing return of Mason Alexander Park, whose 2019 performance as the Emcee in Olney's Cabaret earned them a non-binary Helen Hayes Award for Best Performance. They also played Hedwig in the musical's first Broadway national tour.
As created in 1998 by bookwriter and original Hedwig John Cameron Mitchell and composer-lyricist Stephen Trask, the title character exists in a sort of vacuum: an airless space between pre-reconciliation East Berlin, where "girly-boy" Hansel sought hope through American pop music, and rural Kansas, whereafter a problematic gender surgery and a broken marriage to an American soldierHedwig tries to find purpose through an exhilarating succession of wigs (designed by Mike Potter) and a search for her "other half." (Hedwig's song "The Origin of Love," accompanied by Patrick Lord's sweet video animation, is a fable originally posed by Plato about the existence of a perfect soulmate for each person on earth.)
McKeon's vision places Parkassisted by Chani Wereley as Yitzhak, Hedwig's sulking "husband" and backup singer, and the four members of the "Angry Inch" bandin a punk fantasy setting and costumes designed by Jason A. Climer. The set has a definite kitsch aesthetic with its several plastic Virgin Mary statues (some illuminated from within), piles of abstract junk, an electric menorah, and a row of bullet-shaped desk lamps arranged as footlights in front of the plain plank stage floor; the costumes are grungy, some are gaudy, many are skimpy, and they all fit the sense of hole-in-the-wall theater. Max Doolittle's lighting design incorporates both spotlights in vivid colors and strings of lights over the heads of the audience.
The word for Ani Taj's choreography is combative: Hedwig is fighting for love, for self-expression, for personal satisfaction, for justification (she mentored and loved a teenage boy who stole her songs and left her to become a star), and for a place in the world. Music director Christopher Youstra (also the character "Skszp") keeps the energy levels high and the music pulsating.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch runs through January 2, 2022, in the 1938 Original Theatre at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney MD. For tickets and information, please call 301-924-3400 or visit www.olneytheatre.org.
Text by John Cameron Mitchell