ANY KEEN LOCAL theatergoer will not need any more incentive to see Re-bar's production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch than to welcome the return of Nick Garrison to Seattle stages. Fresh from past Re-bar successes like Deflowered in the Attic, he headed off to New York last year, depriving us of one of Seattle's most reliable comic presences. Possessed of an unusual ability to linger teasingly on jokes without ever commenting on them, Garrison is armed with timing that could slice cleanly through stone. He's the best reason to check out Hedwig, which, like its titular heroine, is raucous, flat-out funny, and still not yet what it needs to be.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Re-bar open run
Garrison here takes on the role of John Cameron Mitchell's off-Broadway cult phenomenon, a scrappy rock performance artist from East Berlin whose botched sex change operation quite literally removed a troubled boyhood and left behind the lonely, muddled remains. "Six inches forward and five inches back/I got an angry inch," Hedwig rages in song, and grants us an evening in concert relating her woeful history (an old lover, also played by Garrison, is heard headlining a glitzy stadium tour next door) and berating her uncertain future. If anyone can mine the humor beneath a character whose mother taught sculpture to limbless children, it's Garrison, and he's sufficiently hilarious to get at least two laughs out of every joke. He bites back into the material with a seemingly tireless effort that must be exhausting ("Not since fucking Meatloaf has anyone sweated so profusely on an American stage," as Hedwig herself puts it). Backed by a roaring band—and special mention to David Verkade's lights—he's something to see.
MITCHELL'S SCRIPT, which gets a big boost from the trampled sparkle of Stephen Trask's infectious glam-rock score, plays like a surly cross between The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Sandra Bernhard's Without You I'm Nothing, and it's a hybrid with which director Mark Gallagher isn't wholly comfortable. If the production is going to earn moments like Hedwig's anguished howl—"Love the front of me!"—then it has to anchor its substantial belly laughs in a more gravely comic tone. Mitchell's text is knowingly off-kilter but, as in Bernhard's searing solo act, the wink is a woundedly straight-faced one and not without its own stinging hurt. The darkness may be lighted with kitsch and camp, but it's still darkness, and that's only skimmed across here.
Gallagher has brought considerable energy and affection to the material without fully shaping it into something that works its way up to the truly rousing, sorrowful triumph of its climactic numbers. Hedwig is, as they say, "working through her shit," and that includes her relationship with embittered Jewish husband Yitzhak, the former drag queen who serves as her begrudging assistant and backup singer. Sarah Rudinoff belts and glowers with style (catch the hysterically pained understatement in her grimaces) but isn't smoothly worked into the arc of the show, which should find this distant couple in bittersweet reunion.
The production just needs to mean more than it does right now, and I suspect we'll see that happen. On opening night, it took Garrison until about the halfway point before he really started tearing it up. He can take it even further, and as increasingly boisterous audiences flock to him I have no doubt he will. The longer this show runs—I'd bet it sticks around for some time—the more its shadows will creep further out of its corners, and Hedwig will emerge as the devastated survivor that I'm sure Mitchell intends her to be. As it stands, the show sends you out buzzing, zinging from the high of a remarkable performer. With time, the whole thing should go right through the roof.