by Lynn on November 29, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont.

Text by John Cameron Mitchell

Music and lyrics by Stephen Trask

Directed by Joe Pagnan

Musical direction by Giustin MacLean

Associate set and props designer, Abigail Palmer

Costumes by Marianne Jette

Lighting and projections by Jeff Pybus

Sound by Adam Harendorf

Cast: David Ball

Gabi Epstein

Musicians: Iain Leslie

Erik Larson

Duncan Stan

Pieter Huyer

Irreverent, funny, touching,  beautifully performed and produced.

The Story. Hedwig was born Hansel in East Berlin. He always felt trapped: trapped in that section of the divided city, trapped in a man’s body when he considered himself something else and dressed that way; trapped in a society who did not accept this situation.

Hansel had encounters with men. Tommy was one of them, a young man who wanted to be a rock star. Hansel helped Tommy write many hit songs (without credit as it turned out).  Then Hansel met and fell in love with a GI who wanted to marry him/her and take him/her back to the States. A little operation was necessary before they could to that. The operation was botched leaving “one angry inch” of what was once Hansel. The result is Hedwig, a transgender woman sheathed in glitter and sarcasm.

Hedwig tells her story with all the gory, angry bits kept in. She is her own kind of rock star and is aided by her long suffering “husband” Yitzhak.

The Production. Arkady Spivak, the endlessly creative Artistic Producer of Talk is Free Theatre, has a keen eye for talent and how to challenge that talent. So we have actors being stretched in various productions you might not have considered they would play. The same thing with directors.

Joe Pagnan is known mainly as a gifted, inventive stage designer. Witness his wonderful work in creating the world of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street in the Curious Voyage, or Amadeus, Candide, Sunday in the Park with George all at Talk is Free, or Theory at Tarragon in Toronto. Pagnan has an innate sense of what these worlds are like and with economy he creates them, making sure the audience imagines the rest.

Spivak saw in Pagnan a budding director and naturally ‘cast’ him to direct Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Wonderful decision.

Aided by his creative team: sets by Associate Abigail Palmer, costumes by Marianne Jette and lights and projections by Jeff Pybus, Joe Pagnan has created the world of Hedwig. There are several old fashioned television sets that blink screens full of static, or newsreels of the day, or old television shows that in a way comment on Hedwig’s story.

The air is hazy with ‘fog’; the lights pour down in bright cones. There is a cheesiness to it all that exemplifies Hedwig’s (David Ball) world. Hedwig makes her appearance in a burst of rock music and a blast of ‘smoke’ and light. She wears a long, full blond wig with braid-like stuff on the crown. It’s a wig that suggests a Gretel more than a Hansel. The costume is glittery and suggestive of a very brief skirt. She wears high-heeled boots, glitter on her eye-lids, glistening lipstick and she is dripping in attitude and arrogance.

David Ball, as Hedwig is sassy, flirty, seems to be adlibbing all over the place but I’m sure it’s all scripted or not, and knows how to play an audience like a kid at an arcade. Ball has such sashaying grace in those dangerous high-heels that I’m taking notes and am envious. And he sings in a strong, urgent, rock and roll voice. Intoxicating.

Yitzhak (Gabi Epstein) is a waif-like, diminutive, androgynous creature with quiet rage and patience who is Hedwig’s stage hand, butt of her jokes and ‘husband.’ In ‘his’ quiet way Yitzhak makes known his contempt for Hedwig with some well placed expletives and side-long glances at the audience that speak volumes. And since ‘he’ is played by Gabi Epstein the singing is divine.

It also has a wonderful balance in sound between the amplified band (wonderful group) and the amplified sings with one not drowning out the other. How rare is that??

Director Joe Pagnan has invested all sorts of smart details in the staging and the direction. It’s a raunchy, deliberately vulgar production with moments of touching sadness. It’s about loneliness with attitude to cover it up.

 Comment. Hedwig and the Angry Inch isn’t just a raunchy romp; it’s a show about being ‘other’, not fitting in and trying hard to do so. It’s about politics, displacement, gender issues, androgyny and rock and roll. The run is short. See it. Barrie is closer than you think.

Talk is Free Theatre presents:

Opened: Nov. 23, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 1, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 ada November 30, 2018 at 12:33 am

I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and this is the best written review I have read crediting all actors and all the creative and visionary people who made it’s success possible. Thank you.