The World of the Play John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch takes place inside an (East) Broadway theater – the Belasco – on a stage otherwise occupied by the set of the recently opened-and-closed Hurt Locker: The Musical. The stage set is composed of the bombed-out husk of a vehicle on a ‘Middle Eastern’ street with parts of the car hang in mid-air as though a bomb were currently exploding. Playbills for the closed show scatter the stage and audience, as though they were exploded too. The theater has closed the musical and given ‘Hedwig’ the space for a one-night-only show with ‘The Angry Inch’ band. There is a fire door upstage to the outside, through which the sound of a ‘Tommy Gnosis’ concert in Times Square is heard at several points throughout the play.
‘Hedwig’ takes place in real time, with references throughout to earlier moments and places in the life of ‘Hedwig’: her upbringing in Cold War era East Germany, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, a trailer park in Junction City Kansas, a drag show in Zagreb, a limosine ride in New York, etc.
The Social World of the Play
The characters in this world do not know how to accept Hedwig because they cannot easily define who or ‘what’ she is. Early in the play, an American soldier promises to take Hedwig – then a young queer man named Hansel – back to America as his wife if he will only go through with a sex change operation first. Ostensibly, the operation is necessary to allow the wedding to take place – to permit a ‘full physical examination’ to find Hedwig to be female. Later, Tommy Gnosis breaks off his relationship with Hedwig as he cannot accept her ‘masculine side’ (the angry inch).
At several points throughout the musical, Hedwig stops Yitzhak from singing. She is jealous of Yitzhak’s incredible talent, and perhaps also his ability to effortlessly pass as both woman and man in and out of his drag performances, while she is unable to truly pass as either.
The music throughout is inspired by ‘crypto-homo rockers’ – 60s, 70s and 80s rock and punk rock groups –‘the misfits and the losers’ who actively lived outside of societal norms and made life on the outside look better and more free than life on the inside.
Hedwig allows Yitzhak to perform in drag again.
Tommy comes to realize the ways in which he failed Hedwig in their relationship.
Hedwig seems to stop trying to pass as clearly of any gender by removing her wig and the tomatoes in her bra.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a musical about radical self-acceptance.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is about loving ourselves in a world which strives to have us conform.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is about a genderqueer person who, after a botched sex change surgery, fails to pass as either male or female. After repeatedly striving to please a loved one by conforming to one gender or another, she comes to accept herself in all of her ambiguity.