Last weekend, a production of the rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch performed three shows in Alpha Delta Phi’s Grotto. If you’ve never heard of Hedwig, let’s just say that it is a sight to behold, and this version was no exception.
I live in Alpha Delt, so skipping this show was out of the question for me; I do my laundry down the hall from the Grotto, and I kept walking in on Hedwig rehearsals during the first two weeks of school. I also knew several of the people who worked on it, including the director (Maia Nelles-Sager ’17), the stage manager (Chloe Briskin ’18), and the bassist (our managing editor Maya). But I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew a Wesleyan alum, Stephen Trask ’89, had written the music and lyrics. I knew that the main character was genderqueer – traditionally performed by a cis man in women’s clothing, although in this version the actor was also genderqueer – and that the only other character onstage was a gay man played by a woman. And I knew there was a rock band. But that’s about it.
When the rest of the audience and I were led down into the Grotto for the Saturday matinee (sidenote: this is a weird show to watch in the daytime), I saw that all the furniture had been pushed aside and that it was standing room only, except for two couches against the back wall. A live band played pre-show music to the side of the stage, where only a single mic stand was set up. There were a few stools, some wigs on display, but otherwise, there were no set pieces or backdrop; for the most part, the Grotto was left as it usually is, with its brick walls covered in graffiti, its multicolored lights, and its musty odor.
The entire show presented itself as a rock concert, headlined by Hedwig performing with her band, the Angry Inch. After the first song, Hedwig, played by Isaac Gotterer ’19, begins to tell the story of how she became a rock star, and pretty soon the show morphs into an autobiographical telling of her life. There’s plenty of banter with her band, the audience, and her lover and stage counterpart, Yitzhak (Katherine Paterson ’19), but this is definitely Hedwig’s story to tell.
If you don’t already know them, I’m not going to give away the plot details, because I encourage you to go see a production, any production, of Hedwig and the Angry Inch knowing as little about it as possible. As for this version, they did a fantastic job staying true to the heart of the show and keeping its emotional core, while adapting some of the dialogue for a contemporary audience, mainly for better jokes. In addition to taking some lines from the 2014 Broadway version (starring Neil Patrick Harris), Hedwig makes explicit references to the Grotto itself, to Music House across the street, and to the mannerisms of Wesleyan students. There were even a few lewd jokes about Michael Roth that had the audience in tears.
Best of all, there was a lot of ~audience interaction~ to the point where the fourth wall didn’t even need to be broken; it hardly ever existed in the first place. (I think at some point Hedwig makes a joke about breaking “the fifth wall” – that being the ceiling.) Here’s a video of one of the steamier examples:
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is hands-down one of the best shows I’ve seen at Wesleyan, and it was a real treat to experience it in the smelly, beautiful basement of my house. I hope the cast and crew had half as much fun putting on this show as it seemed like they did. And here’s to more great, queer, undeniably weird Wesleyan-y shows like this one in the future.