Meet the Rogue

Live theater. Unsolicited commentary.
From Detroit to Lansing.

Carolyn Hayes is the Rogue Critic, est. late 2009.

In 2011, the Rogue attended 155 plays, readings, and festivals (about 3 per week) and penned 115 reviews (about 2.2 per week).

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Theaters and Companies

The Abreact (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2011 SIR

The AKT Theatre Project (Wyandotte)
website | reviews

Blackbird Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Detroit Repertory Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

The Encore Musical Theatre Co. (Dexter)
website | reviews

Go Comedy! (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Hilberry Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Jewish Ensemble Theatre (West Bloomfield)
website | reviews

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co. (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Matrix Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester)
website | reviews

Performance Network Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews

Planet Ant Theatre (Hamtramck)
website | reviews

Plowshares Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

Purple Rose Theatre Co. (Chelsea)
website | reviews

The Ringwald Theatre (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Tipping Point Theatre (Northville)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Threefold Productions (Ypsilanti)
website | reviews

Two Muses Theatre (West Bloomfield Township)
website | reviews

Williamston Theatre (Williamston)
website | reviews







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Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Viewers familiar with Who Wants Cake? at the Ringwald will hear “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (book by John Cameron Mitchell, music and lyrics by Stephen Trask) and reflexively think “Yes, absolutely.” An ingenious fit for the boundary-pushing company and make-do space, this provocative and thrilling imagined rock set by an also-ran East German transgender singer-songwriter and her band doubles as a fictitious autobiography of oppression, sacrifice, disfigurement, playing gigs at the Sizzler, and other unspeakable indignities we weather for the sake of love. Here, cemented by Vince Kelley’s stellar turn in the title role, director Joe Plambeck’s subversive and infectious musical delivers both melodiously and dramatically.

The Angry Inch is Hedwig’s band, made up of four players on instruments as well as selectively spoken roadie/backup/husband Yitzhak (Sonja Marquis). In the world of the play, the group is following rock god Tommy Gnosis on his national tour, in a misguided attempt to vengefully tarnish his reputation and/or get his attention — Hedwig claims to have written or co-written all the songs that made him famous, only to be thrown over and ignored. Led by music director Eric Gutman, the numbers rattle the storefront Ringwald space, inspired by glam rock with a little edge of furious punk for good measure. Kelley is gamely supported vocally by Marquis and sometimes Gutman, but the lyrics are clearly plucked straight out of Hedwig’s soul, a connection aided by the unhinged electricity of live performance that is alive and well throughout this ninety-minute play.

Aside from Gutman and Plambeck’s slick sound design, the other production elements touch on the heartrending reality of a huge vision done on a miniscule budget. Katie Orwig’s setting delivers little more than fabric and staples that are visually striking even as they pale in comparison to the imagined grandeur of the concurrent Gnosis show. (A combination of blasting sound and a great lighting reveal subs in for the neighboring arena venue to better bring the comparison home.) As would be expected in a twisted-gender rock extravaganza, an entire team has been assembled to craft costumes (Matthew Arrington), wigs (Chris De Boer), and makeup (Katie Casebolt); the result is a gorgeous assembly of glam looks intercut with frilly excesses and Hollywood grandeur that gravely contrasts the grubby visage of the rest of the band. Completing the visual smorgasbord is Plambeck’s splashy lighting and a video projection screen, which features a few minutes of enchanting animated video accompaniment (by Dyan Bailey and Dave Davies) in addition to relevant stills.

Kelley has never been better than as Hedwig, using a practiced, hardened string of self-deprecating chatter between numbers to hide a simmering vulnerability that keeps the character’s self-created caricature from becoming a mere freak show. As it turns out, the angry inch is also a literal reference, a battle scar of sorts at the center of Hedwig’s wretched life story. Born male, young Hansel was given an opportunity to escape East Berlin with an American man, but the price was an abortive sex change operation to ensure the legality of the marriage. At once politically liberated and enslaved in a woman’s identity, Hedwig seems uninterested in passing as female, but seizes on themes of reinvention as she longs for a soulmate to make her complete. That other half would not appear to be Yitzhak, whose own former success as a drag performer breeds the kind of resentment and subjugation in Hedwig that she’s used to receiving from others. From the first number, Marquis and Kelley’s dynamic is made inconspicuously but painfully clear; what passes between them is at once funny and redemptive, a fascinating layer that colors the musical performances without overtaking them. The scripted placement of a woman as the “husband” of the pair and a man as the “wife” not only challenges the performers in ways that are interesting to watch, but further amplifies the viewer’s awareness of the thorny association between sex and gender, and whether it holds any importance for human connection.

In light of its long-running off-Broadway show and 2001 film adaptation, viewers are likely to approach Hedwig and the Angry Inch with certain expectations, and this intimate, honest, painstakingly crafted, but hard-rocking production is poised to exceed them. Cutting through its risqué subject matter and stripping away its sharply honed artifice to expose a complex and lonely individual, wound through with a tuneful soundtrack, the only response the show seeks — and handily earns — is validation and acceptance, which comes here in a hoarse-from-cheering holler of yes. Absolutely.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is no longer playing.
For the latest from the Ringwald Theatre (formerly Who Wants Cake?), click here.