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BWW Review: HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH at Desert Rose Playhouse

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Gender-Queer Rock Concert is Captivating

BWW Review: HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH at Desert Rose Playhouse

The only problem with staging as big a hit as Desert Rose Playhouse had with their recent production of The Rocky Horror Show is that you have to follow it up with something. Wisely, Artistic Director Robbie Wayne lined up a killer artistic triumvirate in actors Nicholas Sloan and Jamie Leigh Walker, and the seasoned Chuck Yates as director. The show, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, is a beloved title not only in the gay community, but for eccentrics and misfits of all shapes and sizes. It recently had a successful run on Broadway, and I certainly enjoyed the Desert Rose production much more than I did the touring company of the Broadway production, helmed by Darren Criss, which I walked out on about halfway through.

The show is essentially a 90-minute monologue by a German gender-queer rock singer who started life as a "slip of a girly-boy named Hansel." I frankly can't think of another performer anywhere in the area who could even handle the assignment, let alone with the talent, skill and stamina that Sloan brings to the role. The show is a mock rock act in a 3rd-rate club. I was scared at first because the opening song is a bit lackluster, but when Hedwig addresses the audience as any rock star would do, Sloan easily grabs the audience in the palm of his hand, and doesn't let go. Knowing that director Yates is an experienced writer, I'm pretty sure he wrote the opening monologue with numerous local references - which were richly appreciated by the opening night audience.

I expected and got the best from Sloan, but the big surprise for me was Jamie Leigh Walker (Sloan's talented wife) as Yitzhak, a male Russian roadie who has a very strange codependent relationship with Hedwig. The show actually starts off with Yitzhak reading "housekeeping rules" to the audience: where the exits are, don't touch Hedwig during the performance, etc. His reluctance to do this demeaning job is hilarious, and gives us a great insight into his character. Certainly Walker uses a male wig, clothes and even a teensy little goatee, but she achieves the gender switch primarily by her attitude and facial expressions. Great acting!

Hedwig's lengthy tale of angst, agonizing over his family, his first boyfriend, and the eponymous appendage that was the result of a botched gender reassignment procedure is indeed lengthy - at times, a bit too lengthy. The more he shares with us, the more eccentric he grows as evidenced by less glamorous costumes, more disheveled wigs and smeared makeup. This all leads to an eventual moment for both Hedwig and Yitzhak which is one of the most impactive theatrical images I have ever seen. Aided by Matthew McLean's rain curtain and the best song in the show, "Midnight Radio," the final moments make us realize we have been tickled, tickled - and then slapped as the truth of the two characters reveals itself.

Throughout the performance, a four-piece rock band is on stage right and interacts with the actors from time to time. They are Christopher Do on keyboards, popular actor/musician Miguel Arballo on bass, Sean McCune on drums and Juan Espino guitar. Espino does double duty as eye candy, dressed in tight jeans with suspenders across his bare chest. I often found my eye moving back to him, imagining that I was ... well, that's another story. Constance Gordy was Music Director.

Matthew McLean's set design was a mash-up of a dive bar and a sleazy alley with graffiti and the tired carcass of a parked car. It felt like absolutely the right place for Hedwig to be performing, and a raised platform upstage was used frequently and effectively. Desert Rose Playhouse is the only theatre in the Coachella Valley with a video wall, and video specialist Nick Wass made terrific use of it. Most songs were accompanied by his very effective animations that added subtle richness to the performance.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch continues through November 21 with Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Per Palm Springs Civic Regulation, proof of vaccination is required for admission to the theatre. Once inside, masks seemed to be optional. Tickets and further information are available at www.DesertRosePlayhouse.org.


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From This Author Stan Jenson