production standards and artistry of Eubank Productions continue to
increase. Case in point is Hedwig and the Angry Itch
at the Just Off Broadway Theatre. If the ambition realized in this
production serves as a barometer, Eubank Productions will soon rank
high in the local theatre echelon.
Surrounded by tables and chairs, the elevated stage sits in an intimate
Justin Van Pelt plays Hedwig, somewhere between a drag queen and
a gender unspecific role. He (for want of a better pronoun) sings
lead for the band. Playwright John Cameron Mitchell with composer/lyricist
Stephen Trask created a concert with Hedwig delivering monologues
between each tune.
In a luxurious blonde wig and attention-getting outfits, Hedwig screams
lyrics into the microphone. He then imparts the bizarre and tragic
details of his life. Born in East Berlin before the wall fell (He
states, "I was born on the other side of a town ripped in two."),
he grew up listening to American radio, having to do so strangely
lying with his head in the oven because of an overprotective
He continues his saga (between numbers), and we learn that during
the blossoming of his youth, a man approached him and gained his trust
by offering him candy. His song "Sugar Daddy" details the
feelings around this relationship. The sugar daddy asked for Hedwig
to marry him so they might defect to America. Hedwig underwent a shoddy
sex-change operation, leaving him with tragically deformed, androgynous
genitals. "The Angry Itch" refers to both the name of the
onstage band and the horror that lies between Hedwig's legs.
After his move to the U.S., Hedwig's marriage dissolved and he met
and fell in love with Tommy Gnosis. According to Hedwig, Hedwig taught
Tommy about life, love and music. Gnosis left the relationship and
became a rock star sensation. Simultaneously with Hedwig's performance,
Tommy plays a concert of his own to an adoring crowd.
Co-directors of Hedwig and the Angry Itch made a clever choice
for portraying this. The Just-Off Broadway Theatre lies below the
hill from Liberty Memorial. Hedwig announces that Tommy plays tonight
at Liberty Memorial. Several times he marches to the exit and opens
the door. We see the cut limestone directly outside and hear Tommy's
voice, usually saying something that infuriates Hedwig. The door shuts
and the sound stops, believably portraying a simultaneous Liberty
Yitzhak, we learn, not only sings backup for Hedwig but also is his
current, androgynous lover. This makes for both comic and shocking
onstage conflict: rude gestures and bitchy comments. Hedwig angrily
unplugs Yitzhak's microphone to shut him up.
Mitchells play makes for an androgynous archetypal. The script
includes many biblical references. Hedwig suggests that Adam and Eve
were in paradise before God separated them, suggesting that bliss
equals male and female together, united, in one person. The second
song of the evening, "Origin of Love," makes androgynous
connections with gods and goddesses.
Van Pelt created a tender Hedwig. He accesses emotional pathos by
contrasting Hedwig's nasty, drag queen humor with sensitive warmth.
He manages to infuse raunch with elegance. It's Van Pelt's production.
He sings lead in the ten songs, executes lengthy biographical speeches
and dramatically changes his look; Hedwig transforms from glamorously
feminine to a very scantily clad masculine. Ashely Otis coached his
movement and Van Pelt navigates well in heels, manipulates fabric,
hurls himself around and performs an athletic slide down the stage.
Hedwig and the Angry Itch runs an hour and a half. Van Pelt
accomplishes a quality performance but falls short of carrying the
entire production. The responsive side of Hedwig that he finds could
contrast more with extreme aspects of manic, bitter or joyful.
Van Pelt also designed the projections used, which are slick, clean
and clear. Often images projected behind the actors illustrate the
concurrent song lyrics. This helps because the sound mix of Van Pelt
and the band makes the words difficult to understand. A re-engineering
of the Just Off Broadway Theatre acoustics would help.
Hedwig and the Angry Itch runs through April 10 at the Just
Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Central at 31st and Wyandotte in Penn Valley
Park, Fridays and Saturdays, 8 and 11:30 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. and
Mondays at 8 p.m. Admission is $15, $10, students and seniors, and
$5 student rush (with valid I.D.). The $25 VIP rate includes reserved
front row table seating, poster autographed headshot of Miss Hedwig
and a complimentary beverage of choice. The Theatre Industry Rate
(with valid documentation: i.e. headshot/resume, recent program, etc.)
is $10 for general admission and $20 for VIP. They offer a group rate
of $10 per ticket for a group of 10 or more. Call 816-224-3004.
David Ollington can be contacted at Ollington@aol.com.
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