Finding the Lost Half

by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & H & lt;/span & edwig is angry about Soviet repression, homophobia, callous indifference, the way her gender-reassignment surgery was botched, having to play gigs like this one and oh, just about everything. Hedwig is also angry about how love doesn't flow from where it should and about how love isn't offered when it should be. Hedwig, in other words, may be one pissed-off, trash-mouthed East German transgender drag queen, but when it comes to love and loneliness, he/she has a lot in common with you/me. Girl's a scream, too: She's the funniest man in fishnet stockings this side of Cabaret. This weekend at the Riverwalk complex on Trent Avenue, she's appearing in three shows with her band the Angry Inch.

The group's name derives from what was left after Hansel Schmidt, hoping to escape the East back in 1989 and willing to switch genders for the sake of marriage to an American serviceman named Luther, submitted to a quack surgeon's knife and was left without much to show for it. Full of spite and self-pity, now she's "the internationally ignored recording artist you see before you."

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & J & lt;/span & ohn Cameron Mitchell -- who created the autobiographical Hedwig character for the 1998 stage version and then reprised the role for the 2001 movie -- alludes in his script to Plato's concept that gender differences signify divided humans: We are all searching for our other halves, regardless of gender. Certainly Hedwig is searching for lost love -- from parents, and from former boyfriends like rock star Tommy Gnosis, who dumped her. And she's not happy about it.

Dylan Simons, who will play Hedwig at Riverwalk, can explain the anger. "Well, I'm pretty desensitized to it by now, but you've got this loudmouth, crude man like a woman who's onstage being as vulgar as she can, possibly just to hide her true inner sadness," says Simons. "She's so disgusting and offensive at first because the beauty is not there yet -- the beauty of people who really love themselves. But Hedwig finally achieves it." What Simons calls the "severe atrociousness of the play" early on is redeemed later on, when the stage version presents something that the movie didn't.

In his script, Mitchell also quotes the Gospel of Thomas: "When you make the two one, and the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside ... and the male and the female into one and the same ... then will you enter the kingdom." In the stage version, the actor playing Hedwig also plays the part of Tommy. In the theater, then in a real sense -- more than in the movie -- Tommy and Hedwig are then joined.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & "S & lt;/span & ix inches forward and five inches back": the crotch-rubbing suggestiveness in the lyrics of "Angry Inch" takes the ugliness of maiming and transforms it into a sensual ideal, the furious yearning of desperate love-making. Hedwig wants what we all want, only he wants it even more. Can you blame her?

Yet if Hedwig, both character and play, is capable of tenderness, there are still some anger issues outstanding. Director Tessa Gregory explains about Hedwig's past: "It's implied that his father molested him," she says, "and his mother was not affectionate in any way. Luther and then Tommy dumped him. So he takes it out on Yitzhak" (Hedwig's latest, piano-playing boyfriend, performed here by Rachel Chung). "Yitzhak is this Eastern Bloc drag queen from Zagreb who was found by Hedwig's agent. Yitzhak begged Hedwig to take him on tour with her. She sacrificed who she was to get out of there -- Hedwig was her ticket out of the Eastern Bloc. So he lets Hedwig verbally beat her up." Hedwig is lashing out, in other words -- doing unto Yitzhak as Tommy done unto her. The path to self-fulfillment is paved with a lot of ugliness.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hile being interviewed, Simons, 22, displays a kind of delicate-flower effrontery, a vulnerable swagger that will probably suit him well for the part of Hedwig's deeply wounded, devouring he-bitch. Simons (who's straight, and who had never dressed in drag before rehearsals here) is clearly passionate about Hedwig.

"I fully and completely believe in the message of this play," he says. "I desperately want to get that across, and I'm going to put my heart into this show. Tell anyone who's thinking of coming to see this show that I'm going to give them an amazing person onstage." Like the transgender queen he'll portray, Simons has a yearning for beauty and happiness.

Gregory, who doesn't always agree with her lead actor's interpretations of his role, nonetheless admires his range of talents. For Hedwig, she says, "you have to find someone who has been in a band, and who can act, and who can hold the stage." From the way she looks at Simons while he's going on about lyrics that Hedwig sings, you can tell she feels sure she's found the right man/woman.

But Gregory is also going to surround him with all the accoutrements of rock: flashing lights, big sound, a multimedia slide show, and more makeup than you'd find at your neighborhood cosmetics counter. The piano, bass, guitar and drums of Hedwig's onstage, part-of-the-cast band, moreover, will include members of Coretta Scott and Lines Collide. Simons, it seems, invited his roommates, Coretta Scott bass player Ben Emery and lead singer Josh Albright, to join in Hedwig's mash-up of scripted play and unpredictable rock concert. The theatrical aspects weigh on Emery's mind: "I've played 300 shows," he says, "and I'm more nervous about this than any other. But we put on all this extravagant makeup -- so I think we'll be able to hide behind that, which is good."

Neither Emery nor Albright had seen the movie before joining the project, but you can tell from Emery's reaction upon hearing about it that he's tuned in properly to the philosophy of Hedwig: "I was, like, I thought it was insane. I said, 'That's awesome. My parents are going to hate it.'"

Hedwig and the Angry Inch will rock Riverwalk's Cajun Room, 1003 E. Trent Ave., on Friday-Saturday, June 8-9, at 8 pm, and on Sunday, June 10, at 4 pm. Tickets: $15. Proceeds benefit the new LGBTQ Community Center. Visit Luke Baumgarten contributed to this story.

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