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Days of Wigs and Roses
Hedwig and the Angry Inch rocks the Firehouse Theatre
Noel Cusack

Kate Bredimus
Friday November 2, 2001

"Ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not, Hedwig!" And so begins this one-woman? rock spectacular at the Firehouse Theater. Hedwig, played by New Yorker Kirk Lawrence, is everything you'd want in a jilted rock diva wannabe from Berlin. Beaucoup attitude and beaucoup glitz. She's a composite of opposites – self-deprecating and egocentric, resilient and broken, not quite a man and almost a woman.

Hedwig's character encompasses so much that filling it with a capable actor is a daunting prospect for a director. Daniel Ruth, the director for the Firehouse production, can slap himself a high-five for a job well done.

For 90 minutes Lawrence, wearing an exaggerated Farrah Fawcett hairpiece and enough glitter for all of Grace Street's sirens, spun through ballads and rockers, leg kicks and hip wiggles with nary a wig slipping off or nail breaking.

The production's set was minimal, just a telephone booth, a screen that flashed sketches during some of the numbers, and the we-will-rock-you Angry Inch backup band, made up of Bryan Harris (Jacek), Steve Organ (Skszp), Shawn Smith (Schlatko), Matt Avitable (Krzyzhtoff), and the scowling and scruffy Yitzhak played by Jill Bari Steinberg, who boasts a mean set of pipes. No grandiose sets or eye-boggling light shows to steal any attention from the hefty persona of the German diva.

The premise is that Hedwig, the internationally ignored rock star, is playing a podunk show for small happenstance gathering, while her teenage ex-lover-turned-rock-star, Tommy Gnosis, rocks the masses with Hedwig's stolen material at the Richmond Coliseum next door. Between songs Hedwig gives the audience intimate glimpses into her life. Her childhood, spent with an unfeeling mother in an apartment so small that Hedwig (then Hansel) was forced to play in the oven. Her musical awakening to drag glam rock stars like Lou Reed and David Bowie who "left as deep an impression on me as the oven racks did on my face." Her botched sex change operation – the reason why her inch is angry -- and her escape from the rubble of East Berlin to the trailer parks of Kansas with Luther, an American G.I., are recounted with painful humor.

Lawrence, with an understated German accent, tickled the crowd with Hedwig's dry wit, referencing her angry inch as a "bishop in a turtleneck" and sipping a tall boy of Miller High Life through a straw, and perching on the knee of an extremely uneasy male member of the audience during a country-western number.

Though Lawrence's portrayal of Hedwig is certainly engaging, the hook here is the music. The award-winning score was written by Stephen Trask, a veteran of New York's punk scene, and is rife with enough power chords and harmony guitars to please any rock-n-roll purist. Lawrence's singing is powerful and robust, sounding much like the show's creator and original Hedwig, John Cameron Mitchell.

The spectacular soundtrack saved the play a few times from moments of crowded storytelling. In one particular scene Hedwig recounts Gnosis' struggle with a new song, a neighbor singing Dolly Partin's "I Will Always Love You" in the trailer next door, and a romantic epiphany in hectic and muddled juxtaposition. Dramatic order is restored only when the band segways into the next song.

Hedwig's story is a little broader than drag glam and misadventures in homosexuality. She's a loud, sparkling, bewigged metaphor for separation anxiety, for rifts that are geographical, romantic, and internal. Lawrence maintains Hedwig's inherent likeability through all of her shortcomings, and thank goodness for that.

Ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not, Hedwig's here for the next few weeks, and hearing her out is a lot more fun than you might imagine.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Firehouse Theatre
October 25 through November 17
(804) 355-2001

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Related Info
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” opens Thursday, Oct. 25, at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St. Tickets are $10-$15. Call 355-2001 for more information.

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