SELLING IT Platt (center) with Capaldo and Sousa.
Wow. An explosive performance could be anticipated, since Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the story of an anguished life transformation. But Alexander Platt’s portrayal of the transgendered title character is blowing the doors off of Perishable Theatre (through May 9), leaving pieces of soul shrapnel embedded in audiences, to work their way out over time.
It doesn’t hurt the energy level that this is as much a 90-minute ’70s-era punk and glam rock concert as it is a play. Besides being something chillingly personal, the Angry Inch is also the name of a three-piece band, with Dave Rabinow on guitar, Paul “Zeus” Sousa on bass guitar, and Brandon Capaldo on drums, with music direction by David Tessier.
First staged off-Broadway in 1998, Hedwig was written by John Cameron Mitchell, with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask. Before that point, it was developed during rock shows in clubs instead of in theaters, to build up its edgy audience intimacy.
Directed with sensitivity by Megan Sandberg-Zakian, the small Perishable space is the perfect setting. With scenic design by Sara Ossana and lighting design by Jen Rock, Perishable has been transformed into a basement rock club, with black walls surrounding café tables, sofas, and armchairs.
The story unfolds as a monologue by Hedwig, between the nearly dozen songs. Platt makes quite an impression even before he parts his glitter-glossed lips and speaks. A massive blonde wig helmets a face painted more colorfully than a parade balloon, and Hedwig comes out opening a coat emblazoned with the words “Yankee Go Home — With Me,” revealing a short-skirted fringed costume, coarse-net stockings, and silver go-go boots. Thank you, costume designer Jennifer Lyons, and Michael Dates on hair and makeup.
The angry inch, lower case, of the story is the aftermath of a botched sex change operation that left Hedwig with mutilated genitals. Being halfway between two sexes is a tormenting physical reminder to her of the psychological difficulty of complete gender identification as a woman.
As a metaphor, this matter of being whole or incomplete comes up frequently, such as in songs like “The Origin of Love.” That one is a creation myth, telling how originally there were three kinds of people: boy-boy, girl-girl, and boy-girl. Each was composed of two individuals who were physically united, only to be split apart as time went on, ever after seeking reunion. As “Hedwig’s Lament“ puts it: “I rose off of the doctor’s lab/I lost a piece of my heart/Now everyone gets to take a stab/They cut me up into parts.”
Appropriately, the divided Hedwig grew up in the definitive divided city, Berlin. She started out as Hansel, an East German self-described “snip of a girlyboy” in love with music and with a US Army soldier who wants to marry him. Thus the sex change, the move to Kansas, and the inevitable divorce.
On stage, Hedwig has a wordless helper, Yitzhak (Liz Gotauco), who wears a two-day growth of “beard,” men’s clothing, and a resentful attitude. Offstage they are lovers, Hedwig establishes by her comments.