A Journey to Completeness in Hedwig and the Angry Inch Play

7/10/2017 10:12:00 PM

Complete; a word that notices the existence of wholeness. The feeling when your torrent or downloaded files’ green bar showed 100%. Or when you put the last missing puzzle pieces then the puzzle is a whole. It’s clear that wholeness is the key to feeling complete. That concludes feeling complete is something that we all cherish. Imagine if we feel complete of ourselves, the feeling that nothing is missing from our life, and that we have everything we need within us. It's a genuine happiness; because the image of consumers being happy with the new phone or millionaires made happy when they become billionaires, is not going to prevent the hunger for happiness. This is the theme this post will discuss from Hedwig and the Angry Inch open-ended play. This post includes the spoiler for those who haven’t read the book (or watch the musical/movie). 

As the human being, we’re all still lurking in question on what is the missing pieces that make us whole—feeling complete. The same with Hedwig, the play is telling us the story about his journey in finding that missing pieces of his poignant life. Hedwig’s real name is Hansel and he was born when the wall between East and West Berlin was erected. Such unfortunate for him, he was born in the East Germany, where he can only be listening to his favorite rock and roll tune on the radio in silent—inside of an oven. His father is an American G.I and his mother is a Berliner. When he was sunning himself in an old bomb crater near the Wall, he was mistaken for a girl by an American G.I named Luther. Hansel revealed immediately his masculine identity, but Luther doesn’t seem to care about the fact. He asked Hansel to marry him instead and have the freedom he always craved in America. However, for them to escape East Berlin, Hansel must go through a full physical examination. His mother and Luther thought of a sex change operation. Hansel then used his mother name, Hedwig Schmidt. Unfortunately, the operation is botched and resulted in his one-inch penis. 

Another unfortunate thing happened when he arrived in America; Luther left him amid a trailer park in Junction City, Kansas, for a blond and handsome young man. Shortly afterward the wall of Berlin finally put down and the two halves of Berlin have become a single city again. Brokenhearted Hedwig then worked as a babysitter while being the lead singer of his band, The Angry Inch, dressed in drag. Then came Tommy Speck, the son of the general, who is interested in Hedwig’s music. They later became infatuated as Hedwig taught him to sing and created a rock persona; Tommy Gnosis. When Tommy found out about “the angry inch” he left Hedwig and stole their songs to become the superstar who fills great stadiums. From that moment forward, Hedwig tries to boycott Tommy’s musical tour by singing in parallel the same songs with his band in hotel bars and dining rooms near the concert place with her trans husband, Yitzhak. Thus what the audience will watch is one of their concerts that was held in one of those places. 

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is not quite a conventional musical and also not a one-man show. Peter Askin, the director, described it as "Hedwig is really divided into three things. It’s standup comedy with some hoary, cheap jokes. It’s Stephen’s wonderful music. And then it’s also this unexpectedly poignant love story. And it was a question of first recognizing that, and then shaping it so that the comedy came in certain sections, and whatever happened to the comedy and the music, it never took us away from Hedwig’s journey." The play, the lyrics, the music are all part of Hedwig’s story and that’s what makes reading the deeper meaning of the script is very much interesting. 

Incompleteness is the source of pretty much Hedwig’s unhappiness in the play. It all started with the bedtime story that Hedwig’s mother told him when he was little, Plato’s Symposium. 

I’m sorry, I’m completely dilated right now, I’d like to share with you a bedtime story that mother once whispered to me in the dark and later retracted. Whatever allowed her to reveal such a story to such a little boy, I’ll never know. But I remember it like it happened yesterday. 

(The Origin of Love Song) 
(You can find the lyrics here) 

After mother finished, she began to snore. But I had to go somewhere I could think. I crept into the kitchen and put my head in the oven. It is clear that I must find my other half. But is it a he or a she? Is it Daddy? He went away. Or Mother? I was suddenly afraid to go back to bed. What does this person look like? Identical to me? Or somehow complementary? Does my other half have what I don’t? Did he get the looks, the luck, the love? Were we really separated forcibly or did he just run off with the good stuff? Or did I? Will this person embarrass me? What about sex? Is that how we put ourselves back together again? Or can two people actually become one again? And if we’re driving on the Autobahn when it happens, can we still use the diamond lane? Practical question of wholeness. Completion. Think of it. I thought of it. I thought of power. 

The speech of Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium is heavily influenced the way Hedwig thought of finding completeness. In “The Origin of Love” songs Hedwig explains that love is fundamentally the effort to repair a division. Love, according to Aristophanes, is a desire for eternal wholeness with another half. Earlier humans were perfect in their completeness; the shape of each human being was completely round, with back and sides in a circle; they had four hands each, as many legs as hands, and two faces, exactly alike, on a rounded neck. They led a failed rebellion against the gods, and as punishment Zeus split them in a half, resulting in the forms we have today. However, humans fundamentally haven’t forgotten their original forms “Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature. Each of us, then, is a ‘matching half’ of a human whole” Hedwig took this more of practically than metaphorically, then he experienced this desperate search for wholeness in people he met in his life.

(To be continued...)

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