Hedwig, the most famous "internationally ignored" transsexual, is coming to Halifax.
Actor, writer and director John Cameron Mitchell gave birth to Hedwig in New York's famous drag club Squeezebox; since then she's had her own cult musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and a namesake movie that was the sleeper hit of 2001 (nominated for a Golden Globe but not an Oscar---surprise, surprise).
The phenomenon is often compared to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but "Hedheads" follow a cult of personality, so comparisons don't stand.
"You say you saw 'her' in a movie, whereas with Rocky Horror Picture Show you say 'I saw the movie version,'" says Ian Mullan, who plays Hedwig in TRRRASH's July 24th production of the musical at The Paragon Theatre. "The way that Hedwig entrenches herself into legendary rock status! In her last song she sings: 'Here's to Patti, here's to Tina, here's to Yoko---and here's to me.'"
It's surprising that with all its subversive cues, Rocky Horror is as mainstream a phenomena as it is (I wonder the same thing every time Freddie Mercury blares anthemically at a sporting event). Could Hedwig speak to Joe Middle-America Blow?
Mullan pauses for thought. "I don't know. I think that it's always weird to detect what other people are going to be interested in," he says. "It's like putting people into boxes again. You view people through specific lenses, and this show is about stopping that."
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the story of a self-confessed "girly-boy" who starts life as Hansel Schmidt in East Berlin, takes an American GI lover, and, in order to join him in the US, undergoes a sex-change that is botched and results in a few inches of unformed flesh---neither nugget nor molten clam, just an "angry inch."
So begins an exploration of gender identity and a musical journey toward a peculiar heart of darkness---no Colonel Kurtz here, but a fresh-faced boy-next trailer-door, Tommy Gnosis, whom Hedwig loves, tutors in the ways of rock 'n' roll, then chases through America after he steals her songs and finds stardom with them.
The musical follows Hedwig and her band, The Angry Inch, as they tail Gnosis on his tour, performing like Tina to the masses in local restaurants and group homes, down the street from where her ex sings to sold-out stadiums.
Mullan was "blown away" by the movie when he first saw it as a teenager in small-town Ontario. "There's a message of love and truth and this quest for love, wholeness. It's a sadder story, but a really positive story about being who you are---be there, really put yourself out there."
It's the first production by Halifax-based TRRRASH, a theatre company Mullan formed last summer.
"In coming up with the name TRRRASH, I was thinking, you know, there's so much garbage in the world and there's so much stuff that you have to deal with every day," he says. "People have to take on jobs that they don't necessarily want, or they're put in circumstances that they never dreamed for themselves as kids, but somehow people survive, somehow you make do with the little joys that come into your life. I think that that's what Hedwig's story is, and that's a really important story to tell."