Providence, RI – I know. You're saying, "Hey, Mr. big shot critic: What about 'Rent?'" Well, yes. But that show is based on an opera, for goodness sake.
Now, courtesy of Providence's resurgent Perishable Theatre, along comes a slug- fest of a rocking show, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." It is a startlingly loud and hard work, filled with raw emotion, great needs flamboyantly displayed, and rock, rock, rock.
Fervently directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian, "Hedwig" rolls from East Berlin in the bad old Soviet Union days to the plains of the American Midwest. In between, we learn of a German boy, Hansel, who loves American culture and wants out big-time from under the Soviet weight. To make his move, he agrees to marry an American GI.
Stay with me here, it get convoluted. There's a botched sex change operation, a move to the U.S. A divorce, a love of rock, a new band, some dirty maneuvering- can you believe it? - in the music business and, finally, a realization that life is tough, but you've just gotta keep goin'.
The playwright, John Cameron Mitchell, has said that "Hedwig" is all about his finding personal identity and coping with the opposite sides of his personality as a gay man. That's on full display at Perishable.
Through, the continued table-shaking music (with a little Western swing and even Whitney Houston thrown in), this work becomes almost a minor "Catcher in the Rye" treatise on coming of age, coping with the past, looking for ways to go forward.
Hedwig catches the confusion, anger, even despair, that rides under many a surface.
Much of that comes from a strong, solid performance by Alexander Platt, yet another MFA graduate of Trinity Rep's actor training programs.
Whether he's prancing about in drag - fishnets, a pink and electric-blue gown, silver boots, all topped by a basketball-sized blonde wig - or stripping to his manly undershorts, Platt catches the screaming need of Hansel/Hedwig. He's clear about the needs of his male/female persona, and makes you realize that it takes all kinds of folk to make up this world.
It's a terrific performance.
He's aided by Elizabeth Gotauco's amusingly played husband of Hedwig and by David Tessier's music direction and a solid rock band. Add the fact that Perishable designer Sara Ossana has turned the theater's tiny performing space into a CBBG sort of grungy rock club and you have 90 minutes of theater that, admittedly, is not for everyone.
Near the end, of this hard-charging work, Platt as Hedvig sings a song of acceptance where the lyric says, as I heard it, "maybe there's nothing up in the sky but air."
Maybe. But "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" has a good deal to say, and at Perishable it is well spoken indeed.
"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" continues at Perishable Theatre in Providence through May 9. Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for WRNI.