[faces]What is the origin of love? Greek philosopher Plato once believed that in the beginning, there were three different kinds of people, each with four legs and four arms, and two faces peaking out of one head. Two men, stuck back to back, were the creation of the sun; two women, the creation of the earth; and a man-woman creature was the moon, the child of the two. One day, Zeus got angry and split each creature in two. Today, regardless of whether a person was a child of the sun, the earth or the moon, they are constantly striving to find the other person that once used to be connected to them, their one true love and other half.
Peppermint Creek Theater Company is presenting Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a rock musical that emphasizes the message of Plato’s story. The tale concerns Hedwig, a rock and roll singer and victim of a botched sex change operation who struggles to find her place in society. Performing along with her is sidekick (and sometimes lover), Yitzhak, an ambiguously gendered performer with a dark side. “The Angry Inch” is Hedwig’s four-person back-up band.
MSU graduate Sharrise Hamilton is performing as Yitzhak in her second Peppermint Creek Theater production, alongside Aaron Coulson as Hedwig. She said people should see the show because its message relates to everyone. “The play is kind of a whole identity crisis battle,” said Hamilton. “It is something that I think everyone can identify with. I am sure everyone has that time when they are like ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Who am I going to end up with?’”
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the fourth of five plays put on by Peppermint Creek Theater during their 2006-2007 season. Most of their seasons have been performed in the greater Lansing area, and Chad Badgero, artistic director as well as founder of Peppermint Creek Theater, said that they are currently looking for a permanent location – preferably one in East Lansing. “We are moving up – last year we performed in a barn,” said Badgero. “But its takes baby steps to get there. We are definitely staying here. I am very committed to East Lansing. I am from this area and I feel a strong connection to bring what we do to this area.”
Badgero said that as word gets out about Hedwig, they are realizing the show has “a crazy following,” which could make producing the show challenging, but also allows them to be more creative. Director Louis Balestra said he plans to take a few different angles with the show. “I think it’s rare that Yitzhak is going to be played by a black woman like ours is. That could add some interesting elements to the show.” He also stated that they plan to play with the idea of Yitzkak’s gender, as her character can be taken as a man who likes to dress in drag, a woman with a sex change operation, or other variations. They are currently rehearsing and trying to bring together all the different elements of the show.
“It all comes down to assembling a really strong team,” Badgero said. “A musical involves three times more people than a normal play. You have to get the musical director, the lighting, the costume director, all on the same page.”
He and Balestra chose to perform Hedwig because of its originality. “Hedwig came up as an idea, because it’s fresh and it’s never been done here and it addresses vital issues in society,” Badgero said. He also thought it worked out perfectly with their theme of the season: “exquisite contradiction.”
“It is very kitschy, kind of in your face, but we fell in love with the story,” Balestra said. “I think the storyline is quite beautiful. The pain and love is extremely big, and it’s offensive, and fun, and funny, and spectacular. But through the course of it, the love story really does touch your heart, and I don’t think that you quite expect that.”
Telecommunications senior Joshua Herrington said he thought the storyline not only touched the heart, but also could inspire people to think about issues they had never thought about before. “It is an incredible story for anyone curious or open-minded in the fields of sexuaility, self exploration, and love,” Herrington said. “I know many people straight, gay, males, females, who have enjoyed this dark-sided comedy and it really just opens up quite a discussion in your own mind and with others.”
Art education sophomore Jen Busch is also a big fan of Hedwig. She even wants to get a tattoo of the two half faces that symbolize Plato’s theory of the origins of love. She said the “in-your-face” way that Hedwig is portrayed is what makes the story great. “I think it addresses many issues with gender ambiguity and homosexuality that people aren’t necessarily comfortable talking about,” she said. “It does a good job at doing so because it shows it’s not something to ashamed of.”
Music performance junior Lauron Kehrer, who is the co-president of the West Circle dorms LGBTA caucus, said although she has never seen the play, she has seen the movie and likes how it addresses gender issues. “I love the song ‘Origin of Love’ and the scene in the movie that goes along with it, because it challenges our assumptions that relationships are reliant on certain molds of gender and sex,” Kehrer said. “I think there is a lot of progressive gender and LBGTIQQA activism and scholarship going on in East Lansing, and it is a great place to bring such a fun and challenging play.”
However, the topic that draws people like Kehrer to the story is also what could make Hedwig a controversial show. With adult language and sexual topics, Balestra stated that Hedwig is not “a Disneyland musical.\” Still, he feels that because of the deeper meanings and messages within the story, it will not be offensive to most people.
“If you take it just on its face value, you might think, ‘Oh, this might be offensive to someone,’” Balestra said. “But I think the story is deeper than that and more of a profound truth that just sort of happens to be in that setting. What Hedwig experiences is a conflict within everyone about finding out who you are and what your identity is – it is not just about sexuality.”
Hamilton said that making sure the deeper meaning comes through in the performance is a challenge that she and fellow actor, Aaron Coulson, plan to strive for. Coulson said that though he would be challenged by the role, he is looking forward to it. “I am definitely excited about my role,” Coulson said. “I have never done anything like this before. Playing a transsexual punk rock star is going to be a challenge but I am definitely going to have a lot of fun.”
Hamilton said that playing Yitzick will probably be the hardest role of her life. “The play is a little risqué and it’s in your face and it makes no apologies,” Hamilton said. “It’s edgy. There aren’t a lot of shows like that which we are fortunate to see in East Lansing.”
Bringing up that kind of controversy is necessary to get the message across. “In reality, there is a part of our community that does struggle and has made these decisions to change their genders, with no apologies, which they shouldn’t have to make anyway,” Balestra said. “This is a musical that kind of addresses that search, but it’s not exclusive to that. It doesn’t try to sugar coat anything. It tells it like it is. It talks about genitals. It talks about the operation.”[genitals]
Coulson agreed, stating that he hopes his performance might bring “a little ray of hope” to people who deal with issues like Hedwig’s everyday.
Even though Hedwig does tackle controversial topics of sexuality and gender, the light-heartedness of the songs within the play will make it fun and entertaining. Balestra said people are always surprised by some of the fun \’80s-type rock songs like, “Wig in a Box” and “Sugar Daddy,” which make the play comical and light.
Coulson hopes the unique music in the show will make it appealing to people who don’t normally go to a musical. “The musical is not your typical Broadway musical. The punk rock style will bring in a different audience,” Coulson said. “I am excited to see how an East Lansing audience takes to the story.”
Kristin Dombrowski, a studio art senior, said it’s not just the music that makes it great, but also the comedy. “It takes issues everyone has dealt with: love, searching for self identity, and making your own mark on the world, and combining it with hilarious and unexpected twists that are unique to Hedwig’s life is genius.”
Film studies sophomore Matt Larner agrees that it’s the humor that makes the story entertaining. “It’s great because it explores sexuality in an outlandish and unique format. It’s hilarious and the songs are spectacular.”
Badgero hopes that Hedwig will attract a large audience because it will make the show even more realistic. “We are really trying to develop a rock show atmosphere, “ said Badgero. “We can’t expect Aaron and Sharriese to be rocking it out when we only have a 30-person audience. We’ve got to really pack the place.”
The cast and crew hope the appeal of a story about finding oneself and finding true love will allow them to do this.
“It’s all about universal love,” Hamilton said. “Your other half could be anyone. It doesn’t stop at race or gender. It transcends that and goes through that. It’s kind of a beautiful thing to think that love is love regardless of who it is shared between.”
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
March 23-24, 29-31 8:00 p.m.
March 25 at 2:00 p.m.
$15 for public and $8 for students,
Call (517)719-3887 or visit http://peppermintcreek.org/ for tickets.