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Hello, Possums! Dame Edna Is Back With A Vengeance In 'Dame Edna's Glorious Goodbye'

Ryan Brophy |
January 29, 2015 | 5:45 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Dame Edna Everage (Barry Humphries) celebrates her stay at an ashram with Oprah and the Dalai Lama. Photo by Matt Jelonek.
Dame Edna Everage (Barry Humphries) celebrates her stay at an ashram with Oprah and the Dalai Lama. Photo by Matt Jelonek.

Sir Barry Humphries, creator and performer of legendary drag persona Dame Edna Everage and star of the Ahmanson Theater's current attraction "Dame Edna's Glorious Goodbye: The Farewell Tour," once said "if you have to explain satire to someone, you might as well give up." With this in mind, one might feel an apprehensive stomach churn upon learning that the Melbourne, Australia native has brought his biting, insult-heavy schtick to Center Theatre Group's notoriously uppity Los Angeles patronage. However, with his miraculous one-man spectacle, the 80-year old comedy veteran easily woos the very crowd that he so severely berates by one simple method: leaving nobody to spare.

The show's subtitle, "A Meditation on loss, gender, climate change, gay marriage, and ethnicity," merely whispers about the multi-faceted subject matter upon which Humphries bases his material for the evening. Through delightfully intense audience interaction and a ridiculous skill for ad-lib, Humphries' greatest strength is his penchant for blending non-sequitur bits with cohesive theatrical structure. Every person with whom Dame Edna interacts provides a stepping stone of genuine comedic gold on which she can fall back while still progressing the show forward towards its raucous, gladioli-filled end.

For example, in the first act, she refers to a disinterested program peruser in the second row as "[her] little bookworm," inviting the boorish woman onstage so that she may read with better light; after intermission, she remarks that the bookworm has vacated her seat, which she shrugs off with phenomenal diva flair, proclaiming "it was bound to happen in some way!" She asks all of her unsuspecting guests which area of Los Angeles they come from, to which she consistently responds with her trademark condescending grimace, sending the audience into hysterics. In this expression, Humphries has truly mastered the art of bringing his audience in through drawing a maddeningly attractive barrier between it and the character; the disdain that this satirical representation of elderly Australian suburbia holds for her fans serves the sole purpose of entrancing them to the point of desperately yearning to become a part of her world.

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Humphries so expertly carries the entire show on his bejeweled shoulders that we never once lose interest in her seemingly vacuous meditations on her life and experiences with friends and family particularly her "man's man" son, Kenny, who lives in West Hollywood working as a hairdresser with his "roommate" Enrique, as well as her late "sidekick," Madge, who fulfilled her role well by "stand[ing] to the side and letting [Edna] kick her." The sixty years of performing the character are apparent in Humphries' performance, but in the way of emotional depth and commitment, rather than fatigue and effortless coasting.

The musical moments of the show, to director Simon Phillips' credit, highlight Edna's larger-than-life diva mindset and mindless belief in her endless talent. However, they feel somewhat sloppy and misplaced in the grandiose Ahmanson venue, due to the juxtaposition of live piano and pre-recorded big band audio as well as the somewhat haphazard choreography.

SEE ALSO: A Hot Production Of A Tepid Play: 'Blithe Spirit' At The Ahmanson

Indeed, the first act finale deflates the enormous comic energy that had been so thrillingly built up to a climax and sends the audience out into the house wanting more of a laughter break than they receive. However, Humphries once again saves the show in the finale ultimo, passing out stalks of gladioli (her favorite plant) into the entire house even to the "paupies" up in the nosebleed seats and forcing her audience to wave them back and forth in a "standing ovation" position in strict time signature, bringing them to a "tremble" at the final note. It takes several hilarious attempts to choreograph it perfectly, but it is an unforgettable union of performer and audience that lasts long after the curtain call. Indeed, after Edna took her bow and the house lights went out after opening night, the audience remained standing and cheering for ten minutes until Barry Humphries himself came out in standard clothing to greet his adoring crowd.

This kind of reaction would not have occurred had Humphries not found the perfect way to break down his overwhelmingly Angeleno yuppie audience and teach them the merits of true satire. He could've easily started a riot among theatergoers who had become infuriated at the perceived atrocity towards which they had just put their money, but he proves much more skilled than that in this go-around. Before exiting into the wings, Humphries implores his audience to "be there at [his] NEXT Farewell Tour," to which they enthusiastically agree. It would not come as a surprise to see many of the same "possum" faces returning for more wonderful jabbing from Dame Edna.

The Center Theatre Group engagement of "Dame Edna's Glorious Goodbye: The Farewell Tour" performs through March 15 at the Ahmanson Theater (135 N Grand Ave, Los Angeles). For more information, or to purchase tickets, please visit CenterTheatreGroup.org, or call (213) 628-2772.

Reach Staff Writer Ryan Brophy here

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