Let us list the ways that Hedwig and the Angry Inch, John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's musical at Cleveland Public Theatre, is like The Rocky Horror Show: Both works feature transvestites as protagonists, both are fueled by glam-rock scores, and both have stirred up a cult following that elicits get-a-life eye-rolling from much of the rest of the world.
Look no further for proof of its fervent fan base than John and Lindsay Lynch, a couple from the town of Fleet in Hampshire, England. They have seen 13 different productions of Hedwig -- in such places as Cologne, Germany; Reykjavik, Iceland; and Richmond, Virginia. Soon, Cleveland will be added to that list. "I relate so much to the issues, agony, quest, and joy that I leave the theater feeling drained but elated," explains John. "The first time I saw it, it was an emotional roller-coaster ride for me."
The story of Hedwig is hardly a day at an amusement park. First of all, it's based on Plato's Symposium -- not necessarily the lightest of sources for a play whose score sounds as if it were cribbed from the Meat Loaf songbook. And the tale itself is centered on the title character, a German rock and roller whose botched sex-change operation left him with the titular angry inch.
"The two halves searching for each other, not knowing whether they are male or female, explains the nature of relationships in the world today," says Lindsay. "Aren't we all looking for something, but rarely know precisely what?"
Dan Folino, the Lakewood-based actor portraying Hedwig, is a bit more grounded in his interpretation of the story, which he admits borders on camp. "Because the character is so over the top, and the story, looked at face value, is also over the top, I'm trying to play this as straight as I can," he explains. "The show is so extreme, the audience will get exhausted if I played this as a stereotypical drag queen. I try to play this close to a real person, rather than overly queeny."
Or at least as close to a real person as garish makeup, fishnet stockings, and goth gear on a guy will allow. Folino says he stayed away from both the recent film version and other stage productions of Hedwig because he "didn't want to subconsciously rip anything off." However, he has performed with the five local musicians who make up the play's band, the Angry Inch, which has gigged around town the past few months, playing local clubs and bars, as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Halloween party.
"If I can get the audience after the first 10 minutes of being boggled by my appearance, they will see that there is a point to this," Folino says. "It's a very touching and emotional experience."
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