Hedwig on Broadway
Thursday, July 10 2014
location: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, New York
I've been good about continuing to salvage firewood daily from the forest despite mid-summer heat and the loss of a good place to store the salvaged firewood. At this point, I'm working on a fourth & partial-fifth tranche that sticks so far out from the shelter of the woodshed roof that it always gets rained on. But I'm sloping the wood pieces so they shed any water that lands on them like shingles on a roof. First thing this morning, I salvaged yet more wood from that rather large pile of oak cores west of the Farm Road, and the chore was so easy that I barely broke a sweat.
Since there was a possibility that our housesitter might sleep in the basement, I went on a cleaning jihad down there, which is always a big job. I had to bleach away all the places where mold likes to grow (there are many, including, for some reason, the ceiling in the hallway), I had to clean the "Roman Bathroom" (the downstairs bathroom with the tub, where I do my bathing; it's always nasty), and then I had to vaccuum. I usually tolerate spiders, but when guests are coming, I vaccuum them up, which is probably lethal for them. I feel bad, but reasonable human orderliness requires an absence of long-legged spiders.
Meanwhile there was a Verizon guy trying to correct the latest manifestation of that problem where our phone refuses to ring. His task was greatly complicated by the absence of a bridge across the Esopus on Wynkoop.
At about 1:00 pm, Gretchen and I drove down to Manhattan, mostly so we could see Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway. (Gretchen had bought the tickets several months ago as part of our celebration of our 11th or 13th anniversary, depending on what was being counted.) Since this was a real vacation, Gretchen had reserved us a room in an actual hotel (we could have just crashed in someone's apartment and saved two hundred dollars).
After rolling into Chelsea, we had the daunting task of finding parking on a Thursday afternoon. After driving up and down crosstown streets for awhile, we gave up and found out where the discount garage parking for the hotel was. With the car out of the way, we ducked into a wine store, got a bottle of vinho verde (Gretchen's idea) and went to our room. It was tiny, with no room for anything but a bed and a chest of drawers (there was no chair), and the fifth floor window looked out into an airshaft. Maritime, this was not. But it was all ours for the next 20 hours. The great thing about having your own room in New York City is that there are no friends to talk to or interact with. There is nothing in the way of celebrating a marriage anniversary the way God intended. Afterwards, we went up to the roof deck with that bottle of vinho verde. As with everything else at the Gem, the roof deck was less than ideal. As advertised, there was a view of the Empire State Building, but there was also a continuous roar from a nearby air conditioning duct. And there were few places where one could avoid the sun. As we drank our vinho, we watched a pair of guys with a torch repairing a nearby roof. They had to heat up pieces of tarred material to the point where it would stick forever and then they'd press it down. I forget what or conversation was about, but it was good, and it got better the further into that bottle we went. We finished the whole thing. Only later did we see a sign about how alcoholic beverages are banned on the rooftop deck. Clearly, though, that was a rule intended only to stop obnoxious behavior. There are a lot of rules like that in the world, and once you realize that it opens up a lot of behavioral flexibility.
Gretchen had reserved us an early dinner at Blossom on Carmine (not a long walk away in Greenwich Village). I didn't want a Wollaver's IPA (the only IPA option at all the health-conscious restaurants we patronize), so I ordered some sort of gluten-free Belgian beer instead. The waiter said it was "pretty good for a gluten-free beer," which was a way of saying it sucked, but I got it anyway. And indeed, it wasn't so good. But the other things were great, particularly the fried pickle chips. My mushroom taco trio was good, but I didn't think much of Gretchen's risotto croquettes. Somehow I had room left for sliders and fries, though the fries were a little too "fancy restaurant" for me (you know what I mean).
After dinner, we rode the subway up to Times Square and walked to the Hedwig venue, the Belasco Theatre (where we'd seen Twelfth Night back in January). The line going in was long, though it moved so quickly that Gretchen barely had a chance to take pictures of us in front of the sign out in front with her Droid.
Gretchen had gotten us good seats on the balcony, three rows back from its front and near the dead center. Directly in front of us sat a kippah-wearing Jewish gentleman and his wig-wearing wife (who, despite the wig commonality, seemed nonplussed by the entire show). I've seen the movie version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (including important deleted scenes) and also listened to the soundtrack album numerous times, so I was familiar with everything that happened in the musical. Unlike the movie, the musical was presented as a single performance of Hedwig and her band. There were no actors for Tommy Gnosis, the band's producer, or any of the other actors except Yitzhak (who is a member of the band) and other members of the band (none of whom have speaking roles). The entire plot is revealed either by the content of the songs themselves or by Hedwig's intersong banter, which is occasionally accented by the opening of a door to another mega-venue off-stage (usually by Yitzhak), where Tommy Gnosis is either just then ripping off one of Hedwig's songs or saying something slanderous about her. In keeping with the scrappy, improvised nature of Hedwig and her band, the whole musical takes place on the set for another musical, the fictional "Hurt Locker, the Musical," which includes an array of debris hovering in mid-air, an old car (whose empty engine compartment is useful as both an "oven" (as Hedwig relates her childhood in East Berlin) and as a place to disappear into (and somehow completely change her outfit) during "Wig in a Box." Completing the illusion of an actual Hurt Locker musical, strewn on the floor throughout the entire theatre, there are fake Hurt Locker playbills, which are full of little musical theatre jokes. This was a detail that most people missed, but not Gretchen (who retrieved a couple of them for us to add to our playbill collection).
As for the musical itself, I had mixed feelings about it. Though his accent was a little shifty and inconsistent, Neil Patrick Harris did a good job as Hedwig. The role is a demanding one, and there is no intermission. I found a lot of the jokes in the intrasong banter to be tiresome, but that was only because of my familiarity with them. The "What animal had to die so you could wear that?/My Great Aunt Trudy!" joke was hilarious the first time I heard it, though hearing it tonight I might have groaned. On the other hand, the stagecraft and lighting effects used to pull off the visuals during some of the songs
were mesmerizing and gave the songs new freshness. I especially liked the grid of wigs on mannequin heads during "Wig in a Box," which was the magician's distraction while Hedwig was changing into her wiggiest of outfits. But there were other great moments, such as the animated cartoon during "the Origin of Love." It was projected on a diaphanous screen that was dropped down between the band and the audience, allowing Hedwig to interact with the animation in real time. The highlight for the whole musical came in the final three songs, when Hedwig strips down to her bare Neil Patrick Harrisness during an atonally strobe-lit sequence in "Exquisite Corpse/All Sewn Up," sings the reprise of "Wicked Little Town" in an inky blackness while slowly rising on a tiny circular platform, and then Yitzhak sheds his masculinity and metamorphoses into a gorgeous drag queen for the final "Midnight Radio." Along the way, there are several half-hearted attempts to break down the fourth wall, including an unscripted dialog with an elderly couple on the balcony about a ghost supposedly haunting the Belasco Theatre, and an upbraiding of (and eventually spitting on) an audience member in the front row for supposedly snapping pictures with her iPhone (she was almost certainly a plant).
On the way out, as I was waiting for Gretchen to fill a water bottle in the women's room (french-fry-based thirst had been killing me for most of the show), someone shouted at me, "Gus, what are you doing here?" It was Susan the German Translator, whom I'd last seen in Woodstock last summer. She was wondering why I was in the City. With her were her cousin and neice (from Carbondale, Illinois and Lexington, Kentucky, respectively). The five of us ended up going to divey bar nearby where they happened to have good IPAs, and there we chatted about various things. Susan talked about the success of her recent translation of Kafka's The Metamorphosis and the odd fact that a mutual friend of ours will be doing the reading for the audio version of it. Susan's cousin is older and retired and dedicates herself to Unitarian matters (as a gracefully-aging grey haired woman, she looks like the stereotype of a Unitarian). Meanwhile, her daughter is has a PhD in political science and is focused these days on how gender affects elections. She's actually working on the rudiments of a book right now, which (to me) seems well-timed for the nascent Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign. "But what about Elizabeth Warren?" Susan asked hopefully. All the liberals hope Elizabeth Warren will somehow supplant Hillary, but the pragmatist in me knows that that is impossible.
After saying goodbye to Susan and her relatives, Gretchen and I walked back to our hotel room, about 20 blocks to the south.
Me at Blossum on Carmine. Those are the mushroom taco things in front of me, and the riotto balls I didn't like in the foreground. Photo by Gretchen; click to enlarge.
Me in front of Hedwig and the Angry Inch with Gretchen.
Photo by Gretchen; click to enlarge.
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