GENDER BENDER Platt.
If Alexander Platt's take on Hedwig and the Angry Inch were packed with any more energy, the bomb squad would have to be called out every night. It's playing in a Perishable Theatre production at co-producer Trinity Repertory Company's Pell Chafee Performance Center (through July 31), where the rock musical is threatening to trigger earthquake damage.
To say it's a two-person show is misleading, since a four-person onstage band is there to contribute a sense of world-battling camaraderie as well as power chords. With a heavy metal attitude and playful mock-punk intensity, they are David Tessier on keyboard, Paul "Zeus" Souza on bass, David Rabinow on guitar, and Brandon Capaldo on drums.
The show was originally performed Off-Broadway in 1998, created by John Cameron Mitchell based on his life. He is given a "text by" rather than "written by" credit, because freedom to improvise gives the show an earned sense of spontaneity. Music and lyrics are by Stephen Trask.
The Providence production is taking place in the large open space of the performance center, outfitted like a nightclub with cloth-covered tables and beer served at side bars. The setting is important, allowing Platt's Hedwig to prowl the audience in drag queen style more naturally.
Platt wears a towering blonde wig that makes Mae West look like a suburban housewife, chatting with us between songs and sipping a Narragansett beer through a straw so as to not disturb his sparkly lipstick. The costume design by Jen Lyons has gold fringe at forearms and waist, sequins and spangles galore, and an elaborate entrance cape that could get its own cable show. (Upon opening, one side reads "Yankee Go Home" and the other "With Me.") Assisting Hedwig is former drag queen Yitzhak (Liz Gotauco), now a mostly silent go-fer with a two-day beard and a sullen attitude.
Between nearly a dozen songs, Hedwig explains how a "slip of a girly boy from East Berlin" became the person before us — a divided person from a divided city, how fitting. The song that describes that gender schizophrenia is "The Origin of Love" and it does so exquisitely. A myth is detailed in which there were three types of creatures with four arms and four legs: back-to-back males, females, and one of each. For love to happen, they had to be divided, and ever since we have been searching for our other half, which originally fit together with us so nicely: "That's the pain/That cuts a straight line down through the heart/We call it love." Call me sappy, but I think that's kind of sweet.
Actually, the operative word is "pain." The poignancy of that notion keeps driving through Hedwig, time and again, lifting this show out of the realm of simple rock opera and into accomplished drama. Take a thoughtful notion, energize it emotionally, pack it in a hard rock rocket, and you have something that will keep you from blinking for a while.
Platt does wonders investing the character with as much poignancy as personality, a tour de force of theatrical agility.
The angry inch of the title is the aftermath of a botched sex change operation, attempted so that Hedwig could pass a physical examination to get a license to marry her US Army lover and be able to leave East Germany.