Actors shine in 'Hedwig,' 'Midsummer'

Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2005

For the last two seasons, Perseverance Theatre has filled its schedule with stories combining jealousy, transformation and the random, fleeting vagaries of love. Last weekend, however, was a twist.

PJ Paparelli's 19-actor ensemble presentation of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" closed in Douglas, as David Charles Goyette's transsexual glam-punk opera "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" opened across the channel at the Hangar Ballroom.

To complicate things, Rory Merritt Stitt (Puck in "Midsummer" and Hedwig in "Hedwig") and Sara Waisanen (Helena and Yitzhak) starred in both and had the unenviable task of performing eight times in four days, Thursday through Sunday.

It was a recipe for exhaustion, or at least whiplash, but both casts shined in the two best plays the theater has put on in the last two years. The fact that it was all happening simultaneously added to the effect.

Saturday night's 11 p.m. performance of Hedwig started just a few moments late, owing to a timely costume change by Stitt. The cast, Stitt and Waisanen and the four-piece backup band, The Angry Inch, seemed to be operating on adrenaline. They kicked into "Tear Me Down," Hedwig's stage introduction, and proved they really do rock, as the cast had claimed during rehearsals.

Guitarist Sam Burrous, bassist Simon Taylor, keyboard player Michael Maas and drummer Dale McFarlin were tight -restrained when they needed to be and flamboyant when the time was right. The play would not have worked without them.

The story is cleverly presented in the framework of an actual Juneau concert by Hedwig and the band. Down the street, his ex-lover Tommy Gnosis, long-since gone pop, is playing a sold-out show at Centennial Hall.

Stitt won most of the crowd with the grand entrance to "Tear Me Down," and swept up the rest with "The Origin of Love," the teetering epic alternatingly praising and condemning the gods for creating "lonely two-legged creatures." He was in the zone by the time he rolled into the two best songs on the soundtrack, "Wicked Little Town" and "Wig In a Box." The latter was, with no exaggeration, extraordinary.

Stitt's Hedwig was a hypnotizing combination of wonderfully over-the-top diva, raw, dirty sex appeal and pursed-lip sleaziness. He was the clear choice for this role, however long it took to come together, and his recorded albums do his showmanship no justice.

The storyline mandates that Waisanen's Yitzhak gets upstaged for most of the play. But she provided key accompaniment, both as the sneering, straight-man husband, and varied vocalist.

The production suffered a slight drop-off in energy and overall coherence during Hedwig's undoing, but recovered nicely for Yitzhak's eventual resurrection. Perhaps they could add a Stooges song for an encore.

"Midsummer" was practically sold out the next afternoon, a snowy Sunday. It turned out not to be the finale. By popular demand, the theater had added a 6 p.m. performance.

The play could have easily suffocated with all the characters, all the shifts, all the generations. Instead, it was helped along with the simple, monochrome set, a series of curtains - black, white, green, then black -designed by Paparelli and visual artist Sheila Wyne.

Patrick Moore was excellent as Nick Bottom, the egomaniacal would-be-leader of the bumbling camp of mechanicals (tradesmen who attempt to put on a play within the play). Young McLean Cannon brought a refreshing comic sensibility to the stage as Francis Flute, the young apprentice coerced into playing Thisbe.

It was startling to see Stitt and Waisanen being tossed about on-stage, just a few hours after "Hedwig." As the sprite Puck, Stitt was fluid in the air. Waisanen, meanwhile, was run ragged on the ground, whether diving for the stand-offish Demetrius (Chip Brookes), or away from the suddenly lecherous Demetrius and Lysander (Ryan Conarro).

All four lovers (including Doniece Falcon as Hermia) were fun to watch. They seemed to work well as an ensemble, as did the whole cast.

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.



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