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Queen of rock

â€Å"Hedwig and the Angry Inch” needs to pep up

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One trouble with having 14 years of theater reviewing behind me is that I have a low threshold for bad theater because I have seen so much good stuff over the years. Seeing great theater just makes the bad, or even moderately successful, show unmemorable. One brain can handle only so much information, so it chooses to spend its time on visions of Capital Playhouse’s “Cabaret” or Harlequin’s “Twelfth Night” and Tacoma Actors Guild’s “Red, White and Tuna” rather than on shows such as Pierce College’s “King Lear” or Lakewood Playhouse’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” from a decade ago. So many shows over so many years either means they are forever remembered or quickly forgotten.

I fear Horatio Theater’s take on “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” will fall in the latter category.  It just didn’t dazzle me.

It could be that I’m spoiled since Capital Playhouse just staged it, and well, enough said. Expectations were high walking into the Tacoma School of the Arts theater, where Horatio had set up camp.

First the good stuff.

I deeply admire the spirit behind Horatio. It wants to bring art house theater to an otherwise blue-collar town. It knows what it wants to be and strives to become a theater for the art enthusiast who wants to see shows other theaters shy away from for whatever reason. There are a lot of shows that are too topical, relevant, political, edgy or otherwise too “risky” for mass consumption. Heck, there are a lot of great shows that were hits just a few decades ago that are great works but never made it to the ranks of “theater classic,” so they never get staged these days. I’ve said this before: Community theaters would rather hit a grounder to get on base than swing for the fences — and rightly so. A theater three-quarters full is better than risking an empty house, so theater companies produce “safe” works the likes of Agatha Christie, Neil Simon and the like.

Horatio wants to be different. I appreciate that.

But wrapping a play in blue jeans and a black turtleneck doesn’t make a bad production artsy. It just makes it a bad production.

There just didn’t seem to be much life in the show. And the play is all about energy and raw emotions of a gender-bending rock star dissolving onstage. Too many great opportunities were lost in this show.

The sound was off, even considering that this play within a play has the audience playing the role of a Hedwig concert audience in a dive bar, where the sound would most likely be bad. The sound mixing failed at being convincingly bad.

Hedwig (played by Rusty Jones) was two-dimensional and seemed more like a rock star on Zoloft rather than one disintegrating onstage. I will give him props since the two-plus-hour show is basically a monologue. Doing the role right must be exhausting. He was winded and, dare I say, a bit tuckered, but he wasn’t exhausted. He didn’t seem like he had the energy to go the distance and give the role its due.

Overall, the show was entertaining. It’s worth a look if you are scoping out something different. This is certainly that. But it’s not much more.

Staging artsy works is a gamble that so rarely pays off for a variety of reasons. People like art, but the art is supposed to wow. This didn’t wow me. I wanted to be wowed and left wanting.

The formerly off-Broadway turned movie play “Hedwig and The Angry Inch” tells the story of an “internationally ignored” rock singer, Hedwig, and his-her search for stardom and love after a life of challenges following a botched sex change operation. 

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” plays at the SOTA Theatre, 1118 Commerce St., at 8 p.m. June 29 and 30. Tickets are $16. This staging is the first time the show has played in Tacoma. The show is taking a road trip to Seattle this weekend for a show at Neumos to benefit the Freedom to Marry effort. More information about the show can be found at:

Steve Dunkelberger has covered the South Sound theater scene for 13 years.  He can be reached here or at his virtual voice mail at 320.216.5007.

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