Queer magic

Joe Atack slays as Hedwig.

Joe Atack slays as Hedwig.

Photo/Eric Marks

Rated 5.0

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Brüka Theatre and Goodluck Macbeth Theatre Company present Hedwig and the Angry Inch through May 12 at GoodLuck Macbeth’s new space, 124 W. Taylor St. For tickets and information, call the Brüka box office, 323-3221 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com.

I might have been the only audience member during the special sneak preview performance of Hedwig and the Angry Inch who knew almost nothing about this cult classic rock musical about a “slip of a girly boy” who endures a botched sex change operation and becomes a tortured musical genius. But everyone in the room, including me, was blown away.

I expected pain and heartache, and I certainly got my share. I did not expect comedic genius, kick-ass music or to absolutely fall in love with this strange, pissed-off, freakishly made-up, genderqueer singer.

Hedwig is a first-time joint production of Brüka Theatre and Goodluck Macbeth Theatre Company, appearing at GLM’s brand-new midtown space. The sleek new digs have been completely transformed; upon sliding through the curtain dividing lobby from theater, you are transported to a seedy nightclub. A dilapidated ’80s sedan sits ominously center stage. As you take your seat at a table down front or on one of the risers, band members warm up, and what appears to be a stagehand—a slim, feminine-looking man with a wispy moustache—checks microphones.

The band is The Angry Inch (local band Stabby Unicorn). That stagehand is Yitzhak (Amy Ginder)—backup singer (and backup everything else) to Hedwig, the band’s front (wo)man, who emerges from the hood of that car to kick off the show. In a blond wig, an unbelievably short denim minidress and legs up to here, the magnetic Joe Atack embodies the essence of Hedwig, making pre-show banter with the audience, casually sucking beer through a straw and thanking Brüka and Goodluck Macbeth for bringing the show to Reno. You’ll start to wonder when the play will begin. It already has. And so Hedwig sneakily begins her tragic tale, worming her way into your heart.

Written by John Cameron Mitchell (who performed the lead role Off Broadway in 1998 and in the film in 2001) and composer Steven Trask, it’s a story told with razor wit by Hedwig, through an impassioned concert of her songs that trace the misery of her life. As a boy named Hansel Schmidt, he meets an American G.I. named Luther, who convinces Hansel to have a sex change, marry him and escape Communist East Germany.

Snip snip and Hansel is Hedwig, not a man nor a woman but somewhere in between, brutally left with nothing but a one-inch mound of flesh, the angry inch, that henceforward dominates Hedwig’s existence.

Meanwhile, the occasional peek out the back door reveals her ex-lover, rock superstar Tommy Gnosis, is just next door playing the songs he plagiarized from Hedwig to a packed house.

Atack—who, in addition to his theatrical talents, is a musician with local band Weapons of Mass Creation—and Stabby Unicorn blow the roof off the place with punk-inspired tunes and gorgeous ballads I still can’t get out of my head days later.

Atack is brilliant—all at once charming, seductive and pitiful—and as the bitter and abused Yitzhak, Ginder chimes in with the occasional “boop” or “yeah,” but when she’s finally allowed to join Hedwig, her own pipes prove to be a powerhouse. Together they make magic.