“This is what I have to work with,” says Hedwig when his lover Tommy Gnosis is confronted and disgusted by his “angry inch,” the result of a botched sex change operation he endured as a means to escape communist Germany with a GI husband.
For tonight’s performance (I was lucky enough to be there—if you’re in NYC and have the funds get thee to the Belasco Theater ASAP), John Cameron Mitchell came out in full Hedwig regalia plus a very serious knee brace. He was injured earlier this month during a performance.
I’m always inspired by Hedwig’s story because it’s a story about resilience—about how we can find beauty and humor in chapters of our lives that are traumatic, trying, tragic. Tonight, watching Mitchell contend with his injury and give as moving a performance as he ever has, I realized that the lesson of this show simply echoes what Hedwig tells Tommy Gnosis: Work with what you have.
Mitchell doesn’t try to hide his injury during the performance. He incorporates it into the story, allowing Hedwig to rant about his knee and demand that her husband and back up singer Yitzhak, follow her around with a crate to rest her leg. It’s incredible to watch how Mitchell leverages the very real limitation of his knee injury to do his job as well as he’s ever done it. There’s an unexpected and powerful vulnerability that surfaces in this injured Hedwig—a vulnerability more profound and moving, in my mind, than other performances of the show I’ve seen.
How inspiring for all of us to remember that there can be ways of working with whatever our limitations may be to propel us through this grand performance that we call life.