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Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 08:10 am

Genders bent here

Hedwig is a “transformative” rock musical

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Patrick Russell as Hedwig
PHOTO BY JOHN MUCHOW

“The word of the day is ‘immersion,’” says Legacy Theatre owner Scott Richardson, and truthfully there are few more appropriate terms to describe the Legacy’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, now in the middle of a three-weekend stand.

The innovative show breaks the conventional fourth wall in numerous ways, most pointedly via the construction of a physical wall. Audiences for Hedwig are only able to gain entrance to the theater via the building’s side stage door, creating a clandestine feel, like gaining entry to a Depression-era speakeasy. Once inside, theatergoers are confronted with a new performance space, specially constructed for this show, built entirely on what would be, at any other time, the venerable building’s roomy stage. The space is dressed to mock the interior of a ramshackle nightclub, complete with seats and a smaller stage at the front, on which the musicians and actors perform. A temporary wall has gone up, shielding the Legacy’s usual auditorium from view and access. The audience for each performance of Hedwig is limited to an appropriately intimate 50 people.

The play itself tells the alternately poignant and debased story of Hedwig, playwright John Cameron Mitchell’s supreme creation, a crazed glam-rock diva, somewhere between Ziggy Stardust and Divine.

Rendered neuter due to a botched sex-change operation, scorned by her lover and ripped off by her former musical partner, Hedwig is out for redemption, vengeance and love, using the only weapon available: rock and roll. Hedwig regales the audience with tales of a journey that begins behind the Berlin wall and culminates in a series of seedy U.S. clubs and dives, a story told with both acid wit and heartbreaking vulnerability.

In a gender-bending turn, Legacy regular Patrick Russell plays Hedwig in elaborate makeup which takes more than an hour to apply, while Hedwig’s paramour and band-mate, Yitzhak, is played by Mary Young. Russell and Young have dreamed of mounting a production of Hedwig for years, and once Richardson confirmed dates for the Legacy to host the show, all of the elements seemed to fall into place. These included the four enthusiastic young musicians recruited as Hedwig’s band, along with sound design by kindred spirit, legendary local sound-man, Ric “Skippy” Major. Makeup and costuming also came together with serendipitous ease. A series of rear-projections, essential to the show’s look and storyline, might have presented a major hurdle, but as recently as New Year’s Eve, the show’s original off-Broadway production company offered to allow the Legacy to use theirs gratis.

As for playing a character as conflicted and flamboyant as Hedwig, Russell explains, “She is complicated, like everyone is. She was abused emotionally and physically in her earlier years, and taken advantage of. She turns to music for solace, and it just so happens to be at a time when that means artists like David Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, and those are her idols. I find it hard not to like her. I can see how she might seem unsympathetic with her diva complex and power issues, but I like her drunken sarcasm, which I can identify with.” Russell goes on to explain that this show allows him to combine his two passions, playing rock music and doing theater. “There is a real rock star aspect. There aren’t too many times when you get to be in full makeup with the lights and the band and have your big moment.”

“I just like any opportunity to play a man,” responds Mary, drily.

Scott Faingold can be contacted at scottfaingold@gmail.com.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch plays at the Legacy Theatre, 101 E. Lawrence Ave, Jan. 17-19 and 24-26 at 8 p.m. Visit http://www.atthelegacy.com/ for tickets.

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