Theatre: Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Hedwig And The Angry Inch
On August 13, 1961, a wall was erected down the middle of the city of Berlin. The world was divided by a cold war, and the Berlin Wall was the most hated symbol of that divide. Reviled, graffitied, spit upon — we thought the wall would stand forever. And now that it's gone, we don't know who we are anymore. Ladies and gentlemen, Hedwig is like that wall! Standing before you in the divide between East and West, slavery and freedom, man and woman, top and bottom! And you can try and tear her down...
was a 1998 off-Broadway rock opera
by Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell, adapted into a film in 2001. Neil Patrick Harris
and Lena Hall won Tony awards for the spring 2014 Broadway revival, and the show itself took home the prize for Best Revival. Michael C. Hall
replaced Harris in the title role through January 2015 after which John Cameron Mitchell himself returned to the role.
The story follows Hedwig Robinson, who at first appears to be a male-to-female transsexual
. She's the head of a not even remotely famous band called The Angry Inch. They play in dive bars to small crowds, stalking the much more successful rock star Tommy Gnosis, who — as Hedwig explains to her audience — stole her songs. There's much resentment within the band, particularly between Hedwig and her aspiring drag queen husband Yitzhak.Hedwig retells her life story to her few fans
. Born in East Germany
under the name Hansel Schmidt, she was once the effeminate
son of a communist German woman named Hedwig and a (possibly abusive) American soldier. When the wall was built, Hansel's mother took her son to East Berlin to live a simple communist life. Bored and alone, Hansel spent his childhood listening to American glam rock on his radio, and pretending to be one of the "crypto-homo-rockers" of the 70's.
One day, after being kicked out of university for delivering a lecture on the "aggressive influence of German philosophy on rock and roll" titled "You, Kant, Always Get What You Want", teenaged Hansel meets a black American soldier named Luther. Luther instantly falls in love with the boy. He leaves him a candy trail of Berlin's symbol, colorful little gummi bears, seducing Hansel and introducing him to love. Hansel's mother, realizing that her son has no future in communist Germany, decides to let Hansel undergo a sex change operation in order for him to marry and leave the country
. She leaves Hansel her passport — and her name.
The operation is botched, leaving Hedwig with partially formed genitalia, which she nicknames the "angry inch". Luther leaves Hedwig on the day the Berlin Wall
is demolished. Stranded in the United States and stripped of her identity, she's forced to create a new life for herself. As Hedwig struggles to unite her male and female side — just when the city of Berlin is struggling to reunite itself — she discoveres there's much more to unite in what she considers her identity: the east and the west, the grownup and the child, the man and the woman, the old and the new. Keeping her head above water with odd jobs ("mostly of the type we call blow"), she meets the introverted
teenaged military brat Tommy Speck and tries to fall in love again. Tommy is intrigued by Hedwig's music, and tries to make her part of his life...Hedwig
draws many comparisons to The Rocky Horror Picture Show
, and has garnered a similar (but smaller!) cult following. Although the story draws heavily from both classical mythology and from the glam rock cult scene, it's a very refreshing new take on gender and sex in pop culture, at the same time hilarious and utterly heartwrenching.
No relation to a certain snowy owl.
Contains the following tropes:
- Abusive Parents: Hedwig's father. Hansel's mother is somewhat better but makes him play in the oven and throws tomatoes at him, which becomes a bit of a Brick Joke later. It's implied that there is tension between Tommy and his father General Speck, but it's not elaborated on.
- All Musicals Are Adaptations: The film is an adaptation, but the stage show was completely original.
- Ambiguous Gender: Yitzhak is played by a woman. The only unambiguous aspect of Yitzhak's gender is that they want to be feminine, but Hedwig forces them to dress as a man because she felt threatened by how good Yitzhak's drag act was.
- Just what gender Hedwig identifies as is debatable as well, though she tends to lean towards female pronouns etc rather than male ones. The sex change operation was for convenience in escape not because Hansel wanted to be a woman, but by the time we 'meet' Hedwig during the show she seems to identify more as a woman than a man - most noticeable in the way she refers to Hansel with male pronouns, but to her present self with female ones.
- Anachronism Stew: The stage show started around 1998 and ran for several years Off Broadway. The film was released in 2001. The date of Hedwig's wedding and emigration to the US is 1988 and her marriage collapsed around the same time as the Berlin Wall in 1989. From there it becomes more vague. Hedwig's time in the trailer park takes place in the early 1990s, although (perhaps because they're homemade) the clothes seem to be straight out of The Eighties. There's also no mention of when she met her bandmates, including Yitzhak, although the deleted scene hits that it's around the time of the Bosnian War (early 1990s). Made even more vague with the Broadway revival, which updates the story to set it in a Broadway theatre the night after ''Hurt Locker: The Musical'' closes.
- Author Appeal: Mitchell is a Radical Faerie, and most of his works explore gender and sexuality as constructs.
- Back-Alley Doctor / Easy Sex Change: Hedwig gets a fast, cheap, and completely illegal shady operation. But because of this, the surgery became botched, leaving Hedwig with the titular "angry inch".
- Big Bad Friend: Tommy pillages all of Hedwig's music and discards her faster than you can say "plagiarist." He becomes wildly successful as an Alpha Male rocker while Hedwig is stuck playing in empty bars, igniting their feud.
- Bilingual Bonus: "Gummi" is German slang for condom. The gummi bears, as a symbol for the power of adulthood and sex, are extremely sexually loaded.
- Crossover Cosmology: The Origin of Love features Zeus, Thor, Osiris, and some Indian god. They're all dicks.
- Deadpan Snarker: Hedwig.
- Epic Rocking: Midnight Radio.
- Everybody Wants the Hermaphrodite: Hedwig becomes a Memetic Sex Deity in and out of world.
- Gainax Ending: The final number of the show involves an extreme costume change, in which Hedwig appears to turn into Tommy. Did Tommy come to the theater? Is Hedwig Tommy? Does Tommy really exist? Does Hedwig? Hard to say, though the creators seem to lean towards Tommy and Hedwig both being real, separate people!
- Gallows Humor
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Hedwig jokes about when she had to prostitute herself to survive. "I returned to doing odd jobs. Most of these were the jobs we call blow. I lost my job at the Base PX and I also lost my gag reflex. You do the math!"
- "I Am" Song: "Tear Me Down"
"I'm the new Berlin Wall, baby! Try and tear me down!"
- Incredibly Lame Pun: Hansel delivered what he called a "brilliant lecture" on rock 'n' roll and East German philosophy entitled "You, Kant, Always Get What You Want." Apparently it was such a bad pun that it was the reason for his dismissal...
- Extended and made lamer in the revival with the subtitle "But If You Try Sometime, You Might Get What You Nietzche."
- Jerkass: Hedwig again. Her treatment of Yitzhak is outright psychological abuse. She's a Jerkass Woobie if ever there was one.
- Jesus Was Way Cool: "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior?" "No, but I love his work."
- Medium Blending: The animated "The Origins Of Love" segment.
- Mind Screw: The ending, of the film especially.
- Punny Name: Phyllis Stein, the band's manager. Also Yitzchak's original stage name (which also crosses the line twice), Crystal Nacht.
- Rage Against the Heavens: "Origin of Love" has a lot of elements of this.
- Recursive Crossdressing: When Yitzhak finally gets his "dream" of becoming a drag queen. The role is traditionally played by a woman dressed as a man, who reverts to dressing as a woman/drag queen at the end of the show.
- Reincarnation Romance: The subject of "Origin of Love", adapted from Plato's Symposium, is how men and woman (and men and men and women and women) were once joined together as one person and the gods cut them in half for hubiris; love therefore comes from meeting your past-life other half.
- Sad Clown: In the stage play, Hedwig has a running joke going on where she asks her audience if she's laughing or crying. It becomes clear after a while that she's grinning so hard because if she'd ever give into crying, she'd pretty much kill herself.
- Unusual Euphemism: "My 'bishop in a turtleneck.'" Used once more in the stage show, after which Hedwig congratulates herself on a successful running gag.
- White Void Room: During the song "Midnight Radio" in the film.
- Word Salad Lyrics: Several verses in "Exquisite Corpse." Some stanzas are coherent ("I'm all hollowed out, covered in a paper shroud and all the rest's illusion"), but then you get this verse:
A random pattern with a needle and thread
The overlapping way diseases are spread to
A tornado body with a hand grenade head
And the legs are two lovers entwined!
- Of course, word salad is what an exquisite corpse is supposed to be. A coherent one actually ruins the point of the exercise.
- Yum Yum: "And a giant sized Sugar Daddy named Luther..."