In the summer of 2009, my girlfriend, Chanel, invited me to join her and a group of friends to watch a stage production of the rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The story is about a fictional rock band whose lead singer is a transgender East German man named Hedwig. The play, written by John Cameron Mitchell, originally premiered off-Broadway in 1998. In 2001, Mitchell's play was produced by Killer Films into a brilliant film. Consequently, Hedwig has developed an intensely loyal cult following.
While I had previously seen the film, I think it’s only fair that I tell you I didn’t watch it willingly. I knew next to nothing about it, however, based on the little bit I did know, it just didn’t sound like anything I’d enjoy. As it turns out, I loved every single moment of it and I could hardly believe I almost didn’t watch it. So, suffice it to say, when Chanel invited me to go with her and her friends to watch a live production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, I jumped at the opportunity.
And so, on a Wednesday night in the middle of June, we all headed out to The Empire Theatre in Santa Ana where Theatre Out—a gay and lesbian theater company based in Orange County—puts on its shows. The theatre itself, set in Santa Ana's Artists Village, didn’t look particularly theatrical from the outside and, if you didn’t already know there was a production being put on, you might not notice it at all. Passing through the lobby, we entered the stage area, which was surprisingly small, not much bigger than a classroom.
The walls and floor were concrete, and the stage wasn’t so much a stage as it was a designated area in the corner of the room. I don’t imagine there were more than 30 or 40 seats in there; each and every seat, however, was filled by the time the show began. Nonetheless, I couldn’t imagine how they were going to put on this show in such a small space. That is, of course, until Darius Rose entered the room.
Darius Rose, the star of the show, didn’t simply play the title role of Hedwig—he embodied it. His performance was out-of-this-world amazing, from his powerful singing voice to his mesmerizing acting ability. The character of Hedwig is, to the say least, complex on many levels and Rose managed to express all of Hedwig’s complexities with brilliant humor and heartbreaking pathos. And as I sat in that small, concrete theater on a Wednesday night in the middle of Santa Ana watching a brilliant actor on the top of his game, I couldn’t help but wonder—why isn’t this dude famous?
His performance deserved to be captured on film and projected onto the big screen. He should have been whisked off on an international promotional tour, giving interviews and making TV appearances. He should be having power lunches with Harvey and Bob Weinstein and brainstorming with the Cohen Brothers. There should be rumors regarding his personal life in the tabloids and sightings of him on TMZ. His name should regularly come up during awards season and he should be making brilliant cameo appearances on Glee.
Yet, despite the abundance of ability he has to offer, he is a relatively anonymous actor. And that’s a shame. Because for all of the actors in Hollywood that are household names, far too many of them don’t have the talent to validate their celebrity. And then there are actors like Darius Rose who have talent to spare, but are underutilized and, generally speaking, under-appreciated.
Now, I’ve never met Darius Rose and I can’t speak to the aspirations he has for his acting career, but I wouldn’t blame him if he didn’t feel at least a little slighted for not being a bigger name in entertainment. But during that Wednesday night in Santa Ana, watching him perform, I got the impression that Rose didn’t feel slighted or bitter. I suspect, whether you put him in front of an audience of 30 or 3,000, he would be satisfied for the opportunity to simply exercise his craft. And it was this idea of simply enjoying one’s craft for its own sake that resonated with me for days and weeks after I saw Darius Rose’s performance in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
As a writer, I'd spent many years thinking that nothing less than a lucrative book deal with a major publisher and bestseller status would make me happy. Thoughts of settling for a small press or, God forbid, independent publishing felt akin to giving up. I had spent many years learning my craft and many more years working on my novel, so why, I would ask myself, would I settle for anything less? And then I watched Darius Rose completely mesmerize the 30 or 40 folks that were audience to his performance. I realized that even if he only affected one person that night, then his brilliant performance would not have been in vain.
So kudos to Darius Rose, Theatre Out, and any other artist out there who hasn’t forgotten why art exists at all and why we love it so much.