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Gender-Bending Cult Classic at Costa Mesa Playhouse

Courtesy of Costa Mesa Playhouse

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Through July 8, 2012
Costa Mesa Playhouse
661 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa
949.650.5269 :: costamesaplayhouse.org

Tucked in off a side street in Eastside Costa Mesa on the campus of Rea Elementary School is the Costa Mesa Playhouse, a 73-seat nonprofit black box theater that has been part of our dramatic community here in Orange County for over 45 years. Like many of the small theaters in our borough, their mission is to provide affordable and entertaining shows and offer a stage for local performers to hone their craft. The Playhouse presents a variety of plays and musicals during their five-performance season, and typically a select few that are far from typical, as evident with the choice to bring Hedwig and the Angry Inch to Costa Mesa.

I was excited to see the stage version of this wicked little tale - I have been a fan of the film for years and of Hedwig, the East German transgender who migrates to Middle America with her GI groom, after a disastrous sex change operation which leaves her dismembered and bitter. How could you not be intrigued with a plotline like that?! Through song and catchy dialog, Hedwig’s journey is chronicled in this 90-minute cabaret-style show that is raw, humorous and enlightening about a less conventional side of the human condition.

Born from the mind of John Cameron Mitchell, who performed in drag as Hedwig off Broadway for several years, and featuring the brilliant music of Stephen Trask, this show is a tribute to our inner Ziggy Stardust; glam and punk rock fans may find comfort in this story about alternative love and love lost, of passion and of betrayal and disappointment. The show was so successful off Broadway that in 2001 it was taken to film, and has earned a cult following, similar to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Mitchell was nominated for a Golden Globe and won the Best Director nod at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.

The Playhouse presents an impressive representation of the show with all the elements that a successful transgender one-act rock-and-roll performance could hope for. Dennis Tong heads up the cast as Hedwig, the misunderstood, brittle rock mistress of the Midwest. Tong approaches the role with high energy, insight, experience, passion, and impressively owns the stage in fierce high heels and an array of skin-tight costuming. He is a pro at this, starring around Southern California in his own drag show, which performs regularly at the House of Blues in Anaheim. Alyssa Sanchez is Yitzhak, Hedwig’s submissive yet subtly angry transvestite partner, and this bearded lady portrays a wonderful foil to Tong’s larger-than-life, aggressive, over-sharing Hedwig. As Yitzhak, Sanchez provides beautiful harmony to Tong’s strong and gritty Hedwig.

Musically, this show offers some punk licks, some lovely ballads, a little bit of country, and whole lot of rock and roll. The Angry Inch band features impressively trained musicians and actors, Nathan Atwater (Schlatko on bass), Curtis Baxter (Jacek on drums), Chris Luebeck (Mzyhtoff on guitar), Stephen Musselman (Kryzhtoff on guitar), and Stephen Hulsey (Skszp on keyboards). Hulsey is also credited with directing and musically directing this production, a fete he accomplishes skillfully from behind the keyboard. Hulsey has an impressive resume under his belt for such a young man, and a great reputation in the Orange County theater community.

This show is a labor of love by a small and tenacious crew: intimate staging created by Steve and Kathy Endicott; rock-and-roll lighting by Travis Hunter; terrific video editing of Tiffany McQuay’s illustrations by Mike Brown; costuming by McQuay, Hulsey and Marc Crawford; the all-important wigs by Jon Sparks and McQuay; Hedwig’s entrance ensemble created by Grace Sinift; sound design programming and mixing by John McQuay; and the glam and glitter makeup crew include the Stage Managers Gretchen Estes, Tiffany McQuay and the show’s lead, Tong.

This piece is not for everyone; it is a provocative and highly original story with an adult theme, but if you are looking for a theater experience with infectious music and a character that will get inside your head and your heart, Hedwig may be right up your alley.

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