It's not just the flowing platinum wig, glitter eye shadow, false eyelashes, black-and-pink pleated miniskirt, black beaded vest and pink fishnet stockings that distinguish Jordan Siebert in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
As the title character in this Baltimore premiere at Mobtown Players, Siebert is a force of nature. Intimidating and sympathetic, frightening and childlike, horrifying and hilarious, Siebert totally transforms himself into Hedwig.
Part rock singer and part trailer-park hausfrau, part male and part female, Hedwig is, as he/she tells us, the East German survivor of a botched sex-change operation. The role was created by the 1998 off-Broadway show's author, John Cameron Mitchell, who portrayed Hedwig on film three years later.
At Mobtown, however, Hedwig takes on some local flavor Mitchell probably never imagined. She talks about Hampden and Meadow Mill, where Mobtown is located. She makes references to O'Malley's March and Goucher College and briefly adopts a Bawlamer accent, hon.
But even without the local references, Siebert's Hedwig would be right at home in a town that counts among its favored sons and daughters David Byrne, Mama Cass, Edgar Allan Poe, Blaze Starr, John Waters and Frank Zappa. No wonder the audience whoops and whistles.
Terry J. Long, Hedwig's talented director, has considerable experience staging offbeat drag shows (Pageant, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom) around town, but he has rarely elicited such a magnetic performance from an actor.
For the record, Hedwig - a minimusical that is structured like a low-rent rock concert - does have a plot of sorts. Using slide projections and 10 songs (by Stephen Trask), Hedwig relates her life story. It's a story that manages to be sordid and silly at the same time. For example, as a child in Germany, Hedwig says, her introduction to rock music came from listening to American radio with her head in the oven.
Surprisingly, Hedwig reacts to her surgical mutilation almost matter-of-factly. What haunts her most is the celebrity status achieved by a rock star named Tommy Gnosis, whom she not only loved, but claims to have created. And did I mention that the show (one song in particular) makes repeated references to Plato's Symposium - the part about primeval humans having been split in two?
Lots of things are split apart - or partially split - in this show. But dwelling on what this show is about is like splitting hairs. What Mobtown's production is primarily about is Siebert's performance. The four members of the band (Lisa Wood Baker, Jude Black, Robert Gee and Jason Yaffee) and the show's supporting player (Shelly Work) all do able backup work, but they also seem a bit self-conscious in their outlandish get-ups.
Siebert, on the other hand, is equally compelling in full drag or, startlingly, stripped down to nothing but a pair of black shorts - a metamorphosis that takes place in the course of one of the final songs. Indeed, when you see this thin, vulnerable man out of drag, it makes his turn as the brazenly flamboyant Hedwig all the more remarkable.
By the way, Hedwig's costumes, makeup and wigs - which are almost characters in their own right - are by Ed Zarkowski. Credit for forging the character's outrageous soul, of course, belongs to Mitchell, but at Mobtown that soul has been bought, paid for and reborn in the audacious form of Jordan Siebert. A pact with the devil? More like a devilish delight.
Show times at Mobtown, 3600 Clipper Mill Road, are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 7 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 31. Tickets are $15. (Note: Strictly for mature audiences.) Call 410-467-3057.
Speaking of drag, as part of its occasional Friday night cabaret series and to coincide with its current production of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St., is presenting "Wilde Fridays." Tomorrow's post-show performance is a game show called Buzzer, hosted by a drag queen and imported from Mount Vernon's Grand Central.
On Oct. 22, the theater will screen Ernst Lubitsch's 1925 silent movie version of Wilde's play, titled simply The Fan. The film will be accompanied by a live musical score performed by the local band Telesma. The screening will be preceded by a dance/movement piece performed by Mahoghany and inspired by Arthur Golden's novel, Memoirs of a Geisha.
"Wilde Fridays" begin at 10:30 p.m. and are free and open to the public. Call 410-332-0033 or visit www.centerstage.org.
And, looking ahead to Election Day, beginning at 8 p.m. Nov. 2, Center Stage will present an evening titled "The Defense of Marriage Bridal Line." The multifaceted event will include what the theater describes as a "Queer Bridal Fashion Show," in which volunteer couples will model designs created by the theater's artisans and other local designers. Guests can try on bridal fashions and practice wedding vows.
Performers will include Keri Burneston and Adam Krandle, who specialize in "androgynous acrobatics"; stand-up comic Kathleen Fontaine and performance artist Susan Mele. While all this is going on, election coverage will be broadcast on TV sets and a giant screen.
Admission is free, but reservations are requested and a $10 donation is suggested to benefit Equality Maryland, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization that is an advocate for civil marriages for same-sex couples.
For more information about "The Defense of Marriage Bridal Line," call 410-986-4050 or visit www.centerstage.org.