“I mean, come on, comedy is timing!” declares Hedwig Robinson (Christian Probst ’17). The adage is true; timing is everything, and Probst has got it.
Thursday night saw the opening of the razor-sharp, boundary-pushing hilarious Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Off Broadway Theater. Hedwig had a run on Broadway several years ago, but, as director Zachary Elkind ’17 puts it, no one would expect Hedwig (a self-proclaimed “internationally ignored” pop star) to book midtown Manhattan’s Belasco Theatre. Off Broadway seems like a more fitting venue for Hedwig’s exuberant one-person act, calling to mind the roots of the show’s development in clubs rather than theaters, a strategic move to foster the punk rock energy of the show.
And the theater felt exactly like a downtown club (thanks to set designer Michelle Lapadula ‘18), with exposed brick and records strung from the ceiling, slightly foggy and awash in dark pink and red lights. The seats have been rearranged to run diagonally, allowing Hedwig a wider stage to strut across in sparkling silver boots and ripped fishnets. But Probst’s Hedwig is appropriately even louder than the outfit, belting out ballads with unbounded audacity from the first scene.
The show begins when Hedwig emerges, platinum wig and all, from behind the set and immediately launches into a monolog that makes the audience feel like they’re watching Hedwig’s set. Hedwig is a “slip of a girly boy” born in East Berlin, who then moves to West Berlin after meeting an American soldier, Luther. He moves to America and meets devout Christian teen Tommy Speck, transforming him into a rock star who casts Hedwig aside until they meet again years later. The two then promptly get into a car crash that makes tabloid headlines everywhere. The storyline is wild but hilarious, a quality which—along with Probst’s engaging performance—keeps the audience consistently engaged with the plot.
The jokes are numerous and well-written, referencing Yale’s “huge endowment” and a fictional Trumbull ‘17 theater studies major Alexander Dixwell (do what you will with the surname), a character Hedwig supposedly met on Grindr. The show is meant to be altered based on the venue of the performance, and Elkind has done a superb job tweaking the script to make the quips Yale-specific. There is a whole dialogue about the “one in four, maybe more” axiom at Yale that has the audience in stitches.
Some of the humor borderlines on politically incorrect (take “Ezra Doggy-Stiles,” for instance), but that’s the beauty of the show. It’s not shy; it’s loud, and the kind of comedy that one takes as is or not at all. The final scene emphasizes this intention—Hedwig appears, wig cast aside, dressed only in a pair of black underwear (featuring a shimmering gold stripe, a delightful move by costume designer Cara Washington ‘18). A shower of glitter cascades down upon as Hedwig slowly exits the stage through the aisle in the middle of the audience. Hedwig might have an ambiguous gender and an unclear future, but this culmination is a call to accept the character and ourselves as whatever we are.
Elkind and Probst have been working on Hedwig for two and a half years, and it shows. Hedwig is mean and catty and an undeniable diva, but displays fleeting moments of vulnerability that make the character lovable nonetheless. The production elements synthesize the out-of-the-box—for example, a projector animation to accompany “The Origin of Love,” a nod to the 2014 Broadway version—with the tried and tested. Lighting designer Emma Levine ’20 keeps a spotlight on Hedwig but embraces the punk aspect of the show, throwing in a strobe light sequence or two when appropriate.
The set is sturdy, accommodating the three musicians that comprise the rest of Hedwig’s band, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” No element remains unused—a gold trash doubles as a momentous microwave from Hedwig’s childhood, and an amp is placed so that Hedwig can sprawl across it mid-song.
It’s only a two-person cast, and Hedwig (by nature) far overshadows partner Yitzhak (Sarah Chapin ’17). Yitzhak’s perspective is unclear, as the character seems simultaneously amused and infuriated by Hedwig. This ambiguity persists throughout the whole show, but the Chapin’s remarkable, theater-filling and heartfelt renditions of Wicked’s “The Wizard and I” and Hedwig’s own “The Long Grift” wholly make up for it.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch has been done before, across the country and at Yale. But this is one production you shouldn’t miss; nearly everything nails it. There are bubbles and candy and lots of glitter (exciting in and of itself), but underneath this exists a show unafraid to dig deep into what it means to accept one’s self—whether that means donning a platinum wig or not.