Giving Hedwig

Metro Times:The film version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, written, directed and performed by John Cameron Mitchell, is about transgendered stuff that makes a lot of people very uncomfortable. One of its stars is Miriam Shor, formerly of Ferndale, who also appeared in the original off-Broadway play. It’s the story of “a tortured rock star who is born a man but who performs as a woman after a botched sex-change operation.”
Miriam Shor: Yes. It’s not like some simple story that’s easily defined in 25 words or less, but I can give it a go.

Metro Times: Give me 50.
Shor: All right. It’s a young kid in East Berlin, you know, a teenager, and he wants to get over the wall. Meets an American GI. In order to marry this GI to get over the wall to America, he’s got to undergo this sex-change operation, which, of course, he goes to like a podiatrist or something. … From how he sees it, the way to get over the wall is this way, you know. He’s persuaded to do it, and he does. And a year later he’s sitting in a trailer park, divorced, with half an inch left in his groin, you know. Sort of a woman.

Metro Times: The angry inch.
Shor: Yes, exactly. Which is where the angry inch comes from. His love has always been rock ’n’ roll rock music, and so he attempts to perform rock ’n’ roll music. In the meantime, he meets this young boy whose little baby brother he’s been baby sitting for in the nearby Army base, and falls in love with this young kid and makes him into a rock star who then is basically his Judas and forswears him later on, pretends he doesn’t know him (sorry, at this point Hedwig’s a her) … pretends he doesn’t know her, pretends he doesn’t know Hedwig after a while and steals all her music, and becomes a huge mega-superstar. And so it’s her search to find herself and her other half and her reason for being, you know.

Metro Times: And what part do you play? You’re a beautiful young woman. Do you play a femme fatale?
Shor: I play Hedwig’s husband, from Croatia, who is his/her backup singer and roadie. I’m a damn fine-looking man. I mean, I don’t want to brag. I don’t want to toot my own horn here, no pun intended. But I’m kind of a greasy, slovenly young man whose dream in life is to basically be a drag queen and is not allowed, is being repressed and oppressed by Hedwig, his relationship with her, and is therefore extremely bitter.

Metro Times: So a lot of this is about gender blur, obviously.
Shor: I think it’s really interesting to see people’s perception of gender and how it changes. I mean, it’s always a big part of rock ’n’ roll, as far as I can tell. Even before glam rock you have Little Richard. It’s just a way of expressing yourself and pushing the boundaries of what is male and what is female, and what is sexy within those boundaries.

Metro Times: So you were a large success off-Broadway with Hedwig. And you got a shot at “Letterman,” right?
Shor: Yes, we got to be on “Letterman” as the musical guest, being ridiculously awesome. I think he was a bit freaked out by John to begin with, because John actually makes a very interesting-looking woman. Over the top, but interesting. I think that was freaking him out to begin with, and then after we performed, he came over to shake the hand of everyone in the band and say thanks for being there. I was so excited to meet David Letterman because, of course, I’m a huge fan. And I kind of forgot I was wearing a beard and looked like a guy and just gleefully ran over to him to shake his hand, bubbling over with my enthusiasm ... and to him I was this unbelievably feminine man all of a sudden, who had been very masculine before that in the performance. I don’t know if he ever really realized that I was a woman while he was shaking my hand. I just think he thought I was an extremely odd man. Maybe someday I’ll get to go back on the show and meet him again.

Metro Times: There’ve been full-page ads in the New York Times. I wonder, though, are red-blooded American men going to go see Hedwig and the Angry Inch?
Shor: A friend of mine the other day who is not glam rock at all, who is what you would think of as an extraordinarily intelligent but perfectly normal human being, said, “I was watching Hedwig, and I was, like, that’s my life.” Now this is a person who lives in Michigan, works 9 to 5, has an apartment and a car, in no way is at all like Hedwig in any way, but I think the journey that Hedwig goes through in the movie, I think that’s why people are responding to it with such rave reviews. You feel a connection to her plight, her search for herself and her other half so strongly that it surpasses, it surmounts any differences that are between the audience and Hedwig herself.

Peter Werbe is the host of "Nightcall on WRIF (101.1 FM), during which this interview took place. E-mail him at [email protected]
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