Monday, May 12, 2014

As Good as a Mile

I just closed the Ticketmaster site, and accordingly am somewhat poorer, but (one hopes) only financially. Another revival prompted me to pull out the credit card.

Back in 1998 I was looking for something to see off-Broadway with off-beat friends from out-of-town. A little production in Manhattan’s old meat-packing district (at that time largely dark at night) called Hedwig and the Angry Inch looked as though it might fit the bill.

Developed by and starring John Cameron Mitchell, Hedwig was a rock-and-roll musical about a transgender East German musical performer who had her operation in order to emigrate to the West under her mother’s passport – a year before the Berlin Wall came down. In the US she finds love with a young man Tommy Gnossis whom she mentors. He leaves her and becomes a smashing success as an entertainer while she remains behind playing small clubs and fringe venues. Hedwig (Mitchell) narrates the events and opines in dialogue and song on love, identity, and making do with what one has – for, while Hedwig does envy Tommy’s success, at bottom she doesn’t begrudge it. She makes do with what she has.

I enjoyed the production which won a Village Voice Obie Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award. It did indeed rock. The movie version of Hedwig, with most of the original cast, was released in 2001. It doesn’t really work as a movie. What is missing is the audience. Catch it on stage and you’ll see what I mean.

In the past month Hedwig and the Angry Inch reopened in New York, this time on Broadway with the title role played by Neil Patrick Harris, a busy actor still best known for his TV roles in Doogie Hawser and How I Met Your Mother. I’m not sure how well the play translates to a big stage. Tickets are sold out until mid-June, so it will be more than a month before I can answer that first hand. The flashier venue and production values may undercut the central point that Hedwig is not successful in a conventional way, but that she’s OK with it.

Whether the original message gets through or not, it is one worth repeating. We are the sum of all our experiences: not just our successes but our misses, our errors, our losses, and our failures. They are tangled together in a way impossible to separate. You cannot have one part of the set without the rest. Are there things we would do differently with access to a time machine and “what I know now?” Of course. But (so far as I know) none of us has one of those, and that still supposes experiencing the bad stuff (and the just “not so great” stuff) on the first time loop. To be content with one’s life, one has to be willing to say, “I’d do it again, even at the cost of living through the bad parts again too.”

Trailer for Hedwig, the movie


  1. Sounds like a good time. I've never seen the play or the movie, but I've heard good things about them, the play especially.

    Neil Patrick Harris is a really funny guy. He did a Rifftrax co-write/performance with Mike Nelson for the 1970s version of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory". It is one of the best ones they've done.

    He also makes Barney one of the best characters in "How I Met Your Mother", although Robin is a real cutie. :)

    1. The Millennial with whom I saw Cabaret wasn't excited about this one until she learned Harris was in the lead. Maybe she'll get through this show without texting.