some wicked little town

Understanding the End of Hedwig

I have read, in a lot of places on the internet, people saying they don’t get the ending of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Which is fair, it’s quite odd and confusing but I also think it’s worth understanding, because I think the message is truly beautiful. As with all art, it’s open for interpretation, and Hedwig is very layered so you can either skim the surface or dive in deep.

So the ending. You have a choice – the short version (brief, vague) or the long version (where I delve into the storyline, the songs and the parallel that is Yitzhak).

The short version of it is:

The play is about identity and self-acceptance. Hedwig spends the musical searching for his literal other half, the person who will complete him, make him whole. What he is actually searching for is acceptance, love and identity. (He says early on that “it’s the geography of human contact. The triangulation of a pair of eyes on my face, the latitude and longitude of a hand on my body, these are the only clue I have to my place in the world.”) Hedwig’s struggle with his identity comes of a climax (bud-dum-shh!) when he accepts himself, without the wig, or the heels, just him. The metaphor of him morphing into Tommy is that Tommy is a representation to us the audience as the other half of himself that he was trying to find and in accepting himself he becomes whole. In the musical, Tommy & Hedwig are played by the same actor forming a visual representation to the audience that he was whole the entire time. Taking this further, you could argue the part of himself he wasn’t accepting was the male part of himself.

So, Tommy represents the other half of himself that he wasn’t accepting, so in taking on Tommy’s appearance but still being Hedwig we see him accept himself as a whole.

The long version:

I repeat. As with all art, it’s open for interpretation. And for clarity, I have seen the original off-Broadway bootleg, the feature film, the new Broadway production with Neil Patrick Harris, JCM & Darren Criss. I have not however read the book.

For me, the musical is about identity and self-acceptance. One of the most important songs to the plot is “Origin of Love” it lays out Hedwig’s whole underlying belief system through out the narrative of his life. Throughout his story he is searching for his “other half” the one that was taken from him ‘when the earth was still flat and the clouds made of fire’ and Zeus “split them right down the middle… cut them right up in half”. He sees his other half as someone who would understand him completely expressed in the lyric “the pain down in your soul/Was the same as the one down in mine”, so his search for his other half is his search for acceptance.

You may have noticed I use the pronouns “him/his” as opposed to “she/her”. Obviously, this is a tricky issue and could I have a chat, I’d ask, however my reasoning is as follows: From the play we know Hedwig was born Hansel Schmitt, a biological male and forced to have a sex change in order to escape East Berlin. John Cameron Mitchell has said in an interview that Hedwig never identified as female, he is not in fact a transgender female – though biologically he is. So, in desperation to find his other half he sacrifices a large part of his own identity and embraces a female identity, however his still identifies as male hence I use “he/his”.

One of my favourite songs of the musical is “Wig in a Box” and I really love the performance aspect the Broadway Production added, particularly Darren Criss’ interpretation. The key line in the song is:

“And pull the wig down from the shelf
Suddenly I’m Miss Beehive 1963
Until I wake up
And turn back to myself”
(Wig in a Box)

The important thing to get from this song, is he puts on a lot of wigs in his life but it’s only when he removes the wigs, when he’s putting himself to bed, is he truly himself. Hedwig – a stunningly well picked name – is a character, a persona he hides behind because he struggles to accept who he is. All that in your face attitude, it’s an aggressive way of hiding.

Now, this post is about explaining the end of the play, I’m getting there. But there is another significant character in the musical – Yitzhak. Yitzhak’s story runs both as a parallel and a contrast to Hedwig’s.

The parallel comes as both Hedwig and Yitzhak, in order to escape oppression, they had to give up a part of themselves – a part of their identity. For Yitzhak, it was the female part, the drag queen persona. In the musical, Hedwig is played by a biologically male actor, whilst Yitzhak is played by a biologically female actress. This is very, very important as even though both characters are born biologically male – deep down what they identify as is reflected by their actor. Hedwig looses his penis – the physical representation of his male identity, whilst Yitzhak looses the wigs, the female part of his identity. The Contrast.

Now, the parallel of Yitzhak’s story obviously means the end of his story is a reflection of the end of Hedwig’s. Which is why I think it’s important.
(On a side note: Yitzhak’s whole story is shown much better in the onstage musical, particularly the revival. When I saw the feature film, which is the first version of Hedwig I saw, Yitzhak’s whole story was lost on me. I was completely bemused and confused when he was auditioning for Rent or something? It’s just one of the layers that I think it was difficult to replicate in the film.)

So in “Exquisite Corpse”, Hedwig goes nuts, everything goes a bit ballistic, he’s confused, frustrated and angry. In the original onstage production he physically tears his dress off removing the wig and fake boobs. Then we move in to “Wicked Little Town – Reprise”. (This is my favourite song.) And it is so frustrating that in the feature film because Tommy Gnosis is cast as a different actor to Hedwig it doesn’t quite capture the same meaning as the onstage production. I understand why it was necessary though.

This is where things become very open to interpretation. Has Hedwig become Tommy? Have they reformed to become one? Actually put themselves back together? Is it just a symbol of Tommy finally understanding Hedwig?
Potentially, all of the above.

For me, it’s a metaphor. The reworded song lyrics show Tommy is trying tell Hedwig that he understands what Hedwig’s gone through, he realises how hard his life’s been and how much he’s had taken from him in life. At the same time it’s Hedwig coming to terms with everything he’s gone through.

“And there’s no mystical design
No cosmic lover preassigned.
There’s nothing you can find
That can not be found.
‘Cause with all the changes
You’ve been through
It seems the stranger’s always you
Alone again in some new
Wicked Little Town.”
(Wicked Little Town - Reprise)

Hedwig has finally accepted himself. He’s been searching for somewhere to belong all his life but everywhere he goes he gives up parts of himself to not recieve the acceptance he desires in return. His mother never cared for him, his husband left him after him giving up his penis, Tommy left him after taking away his music.

“Know in you soul
Like your blood knows the way
From you heart to your brain
Know that you’re whole
(Midnight Radio)

He has accepted he isn’t half of a whole but is whole himself. He doesn’t need anything else, be it the wigs, the heels, the make up or even another person.

The metaphor of him morphing in to Tommy is that Tommy is a visual representation of the other half of himself, the half he was trying to find and in the end it was him that actually needs to accept himself. Tommy is the symbol of the missing part of himself, he needed to accept.

So finally, in Midnight Radio he gives Yitzhak the wig that Yitzhak has been craving the entire play (“I’m bearing my soul here and you’re masturbating with acrylic hair!”) Yitzhak is allowed to embrace his true self just as Hedwig learns to embrace himself. Hedwig leaves the stage as Hedwig but looking like Tommy.

The play is about identity and self-acceptance. I think it’s beautiful because it’s something so many people struggle with. Be it your gender, orientation, body image or even if you’re a heterosexual, cis-person simply trying to accept yourself in your own skin. As I said, not everyone’s going to interpret it the same way as me, but hopefully this might help one person get Hedwig.

(Just as a last note: pronouns for Yitzhak are tricky as its never resolved if he/she identifies as female in a drag queen sense, or a transgender way. I went with male pronouns as they’re used in the musical.)

forgive me for i did not know ‘cause i was just a boy and you were so much more tHAN ANY GOD COULD EVER PLAN MORE THAN A WOMAN OR A MAN AND NOW I UNDERSTAND HOW MUCH I TOOK FROM YOU THAT WHEN EVERYTHING STARTS BREAKING DOWN YOU TAKE THE PIECES OFF THE GROUND AND SHOW THIS WICKED TOWN SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL AND NEW YOU THINK THAT LUCK HAS LEFT YOU THERE BUT MAYBE THERE’S NOTHING UP IN THE SKY BUT AIR AND THERE’S NO MYSTICAL DESIGN NO COSMIC LOVER PREASSIGNED THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN FIND THAT CAN NOT BE FOUND ‘CAUSE WITH ALL THE CHANGES YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH IT SEEMS THE STRANGER’S ALWAYS YOU ALONE AGAIN IN SOME NEW WICKED LITTLE TOWN

Hedwig and the Angry Inch- May 1st, 2015

I’m rather behind on this! I listened to it and took notes on the 1st, but then I forgot to post them. here are some things I noticed:

  • I do love a warm hand on my entrance.” (Lots of emphasis on “do”)
  • About the taste of John Cameron Mitchell: “It goes away, it comes back… why does it come back?”
  • I think this is the first atime Darren does the Iraq joke about Hurt Locker the Musical. He says, “It was Iraq musical. Give that a second.” (No Iran or Kuwait.)
  • “Once again, thank you Bob. Text me later!”
  • When the audience is describing her hair: “I heard Oxycontin” and “Religious, like you’re having a religious experience.”
  • On whose hair her wig was: “Some Sri Lanken… some single Sri Lanken–that’s better–some single Sri Lanken mother of ten…”
  • I was listening to Sugar Daddy and I feel like Rebecca’s backing vocal choices may have evolved over time? They sounded different to me here than I’m used to.
  • After mess on a Broadway Stage: “Oh, Zhivago fuck yourself.”
  • When Yitzhak is looking at The Love Theme from the Hurt Locker: “Maybe now’s the time. I have to take a moment. Do you want to take a moment?” and “Chop chop, time’s ticking!”

Keep reading

Shannon Conley on Feb. 7th

(thoughts on Lena Hall’s understudy Shannon Conley’s performance; sorry for the length)

I was really looking forward to seeing Shannon Conley’s interpretation of Yitzhak. Since he’s a character that is very important to me, and since Miriam was my first exposure to Yitzhak but I also have an undeniable crush on Lena, I was very interested to see another unfamiliar actor’s take on the role. 

I was really blown away! I had no idea what to expect, but she was pretty perfect.

Her natural voice seems to be quite a bit deeper than Lena’s, so her backup harmonies and “Love Theme from the Hurt Locker” were less sweet-sounding. I think her voice really lent itself well to the role; it’s raw and gruff but also very resonant.

The fact that this was my first time sitting really close up was probably a factor, but I was very aware of her facial expressions during the entire show and she always remained in character. I noticed she portrayed a particular downward spiral of the character. This Yitzhak started out more smug and silently complacent, occasionally giving sly side smiles to the audience. Slowly, you could see his face fall every time Hedwig pushed him aside, every time she used him as the butt of a hostile joke. Something I never noticed before (again, possibly because of distance) was Yitzhak’s face while Hedwig is fondly recounting her meeting of Tommy Speck. He looked almost anguished, as if actually jealous of and hurt by Hedwig’s obvious admiration of Tommy. Shannon’s Yitzhak just seemed to sincerely care about and like Hedwig, and it was clear that her betrayal and coldness disappointed him more than angered him, which made the spit in the face feel so sad–it was stemming from repressed frustration that Yitzhak had been too loyal to Hedwig to express before. 

(Also, though this was obviously unplanned, John hurt his knee sometime before the first “Wicked Little Town,” and Yitzhak got him some sort of ice pack and bandaged it to his knee using the “shroud of Hedwig” towel. It was really touching to get a glimpse into what the characters’ relationship dynamic might’ve been like offstage–Yitzhak always eager to please and nurture Hedwig, and Hedwig gladly accepting his affection. Then during “Midnight Radio,” John had to sit on the floor to hold the discarded wig, and Yitzhak helped him up to his feet and led him to a stool to sit for the song. I know it wasn’t part of the story but I personally enjoyed the little tidbits. But of course I’m sorry John is hurt and hope he’s ok!)

I found her “Long Grift” incredibly heartfelt, and heartbreaking. Her voice perceptibly quivered on the final words the way a person’s voice often breaks before they’re about to cry. The long-awaited pride that filled Yitzhak’s eyes at the sound of ensuing applause was also very emotionally evocative. I will say that in terms of ability to belt and sustain notes for unnatural lengths of time, Lena takes the cake. But Shannon was still a very powerful singer and actor, and I’m so grateful I had the chance to see her! It’s too bad she doesn’t get more stage time because she’s super. Her relationship with Hedwig seemed unique to me, and evolved naturally (and painfully) with no explicit lines. (Very good example of the “show, don’t tell” mantra, which I’ve always found essential to this character in the stage show.)