For all of its cultish qualities and contemporary concerns, the rock monologue Hedwig and the Angry Inch (now playing at Perishable Theatre) has a simple, almost archetypal, agenda. It is an inquiry into origins. What has so galvanized audiences over the years, one realizes, is not its radicalism but its urgency; the quest of self-discovery and re-creation has rarely felt so perilous. Sure, the story is about an East German boy who has sexual reassignment surgery in order to marry an American G.I. and escape from his stifling life, only to find that the surgery has been sloppily performed - she is left with a closed incision instead of a vagina, and an "angry inch" of flesh - and that the liberated life to which she has fled is in a Junction City, Kansas trailer park. But the show, structured around a series of divisions and reunions, is about the possibility of transcendence rather than the thrust of transgression. Abandoned by her G.I., unsatisfied in her new life, a mere spectator to the fall of the Berlin Wall, Hedwig forms a rock band of (presumably disaffected) Korean army wives: Hedwig and the Angry Inch. She falls in love with an earnest Christian teenager, Tommy Speck, and cultivates his blossoming religiosity and his musical talent. But when Tommy discovers Hedwig's unassigned sexuality, he leaves her and takes the songs they co-wrote on the road. Hedwig follows him, playing the dumpy dives in the shadows of his sold-out arenas - hence her performance at Perishable, a stone's throw from the Dunk. The show ends with a suggestion of reconciliation - not of Hedwig with Tommy, exactly, but of Hedwig with herself.
Perishable's production, directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian in a creatively reconfigured space and on a spare set by Sara Ossana, is unforgivingly immediate. From the moment Alexander Platt makes his gloriously androgynous entrance as Hedwig, to well after he takes his even more ambivalent and triumphant exit, the audience is in a state of alert excitement. Platt's charged performance - erotic, self-effacing, spontaneous, and utterly compelling - is every match for the script's ebullient lyricism; his voice, incredibly, is very nearly a match for the songs' extravagant dynamism; his wanton physicality is certainly a match for Hedwig's desperation and ambivalence. He is, in short, fearless. He is buffeted and buttressed by a volcanic back-up band and, in Elizabeth Gotauco, who plays Hedwig's long-suffering transvestite husband Yitzhak, a superb co-star and scintillating singer. Her top-range vocalizations - all "ooohs" and "aaaahs" of thrilling clarity - are so perfectly tuned and adroitly performed they stun the heart. Somehow, in the sonic mass of guitars and drums and keyboards and voices, she finds her note each time and draws it out like a silver thread.