Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Blank Canvas Theatre
Review by Mark Horning

Also see Mark's review of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical


Devon Turchan
Photo by Andy Dudik
'Twas the slip of the knife that transformed East German "slip of a girly boy" Hansel Schmidt (Devon Turchan) to gender-tween rock singer Hedwig Robinson, who lives the nomadic life of traveling from dive coffeehouse to dive bar to tell her story. She is joined by her band of musicians of questionable immigration status as they eke out a living on the fringe of society. This is the basis for the Blank Canvas production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, now playing in the 78th Street Studios.

The band The Angry Inch consists of backup singer Yitzhak (Claire Twigg), a female drag queen who poses as Hedwig's husband and stage whipping boy; Skszp (Bradley Wyner) on keyboards; Krzyzhtof (Noah Hrbek) on lead guitar; Jacek (Zach Palumbo) on bass/accoustic guitar; and Schlatko (Richard Kline) on drums. Together (with the help of some nose candy) they back up Hedwig with rousing original rock/punk rhythms by Stephen Trask reminiscent of David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and John Lennon. The book is by John Cameron Mitchell.

As a child, Hansel was abandoned by his father (an American soldier) and raised by his distant mother who entertained the youngster by telling the story of "The Origin of Love," based on Aristophanes' speech in Plato's Symposium. It is the tale of when humans consisted of three combined sexes: "man and man,", woman and woman," and "man and woman." The gods became angry and ended up splitting the humans into two, leaving separated people who yearn to reunite with their other half. Hansel/Hedwig is determined to find his "other half."

Through song and wild frenetic dance, Hedwig tells the audience of how she fell in love with a black American soldier, had a botched sex change in order to marry him and escape East Berlin, then was abandoned by him in Junction City, Kansas. To make ends meet she became a babysitter (and trailer park prostitute on the side) where she meets Tommy, who has much the same physiological make-up as herself. They spend their time writing songs that, when Tommy comes of age, he steals and becomes an internationally famous rock star, as compared to the internationally ignored Angry Inch. Hedwig follows Tommy from town to town setting up performing residence within earshot of Tommy"s stadium-size shows.

In a performing space no larger than some living rooms, the Blank Canvas cast does an amazing job of presenting raw, ear-bleeding rock and roll (free ear plugs are available at the box office and concession stand). Although the show does have one quiet sequence that seems to drag on too long, for the most part it is a collection of frantic, pulse-pounding sound that really has the audience involved. While all the musicians are very accomplished, special mention must go to keyboardist Bradley Wyner who switches between his two-tier set-up to an Edgar Winter style handheld keyboard. Rock On! You will also need to listen closely to Hedwig's fractured English that contains some amazing double entendres that are hilarious.

Devon Turchan totally takes over the role of Hedwig, starting out in a shimmering gown and wig and ending up breaking down to nothing more than a tight-fitting pair of skimpy black leather shorts, making the journey complete.

The show is sharply directed by Alison Garrigan who also handles the costuming needs with aplomb. Patrick Ciamacco manages to tame the sound to keep ear damage to a minimum, Jeff Lockshine's lighting design dazzles in spite of some small glitches. There are also some clever videos by Noah Hrbek and Patrick Ciamacco that the audience found very entertaining.

Although a majority of the lights snuffed out half way through the performance (an audience member shouted, "Hedwig, we can't see you" to which Hedwig replied, "Yes, darling, but you can hear us!" as the show continued without missing a beat), the light system was rebooted. Another clever ad lib came when it was discovered that a wedding and reception was occurring downstairs in the art complex to which Hedwig "invited all the audience members downstairs after the show for cake."

Boys will be girls and girls will be boys in this crazy mixed up search of a human trying to find their "other self" as Hansel/Hedwig travels the seamy world of dive bars and forlorn coffee shops. Hard driving rock and roll combined with a tantalizing storyline makes this an exciting evening of raw theater.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, through June 23, 2018, at Blank Canvas Theatre, 1300 W. 78th Street, Cleveland OH. For tickets visit www.blankcanvastheatre.com or call 440-941-0458.


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