She’s been doing the same act for 60 years. No need to change it though, since audiences all over the world love it just as it is and flock to see it again and again. Currently on her third round of visits to Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theater, she is playing, as she habitually does, to a full house.
She is Dame Edna Everage and this year her show is called Dame Edna’s Glorious Goodbye with the added subtitle The Farewell Tour. But not to worry, this is her gazillionth “farewell tour” and, as usual, she closes her act with an invitation to the audience to be sure and come back to see her on her next farewell tour.
With her perfectly coiffed purple hair, rhinestone-covered glasses, and glitzy over-the-top gowns in gaudy colors, she makes Dustin Hoffman’s Tootsie look like someone you might have hired to clean your house. Or your horse.
Her act owes more to Don Rickles than to Dustin Hoffman, however, as her performance consists almost entirely of insults to her audience. Most particularly the poor unfortunates sitting in the first two rows. “I see you dressed for a special occasion,” she tells one woman. “Like washing your car.” To another she says, “You appear to have misplaced trust in your hairdresser.”
She also throws some barbs at the audience in the “cheap seats” in the balcony, whom she calls “the Wal-Mart people”.
She also claims to be “making it up as I go along” and takes off on a riff with a woman named, not “A-N-G-I-E”, but “A-N-J-I.” “Do you dot the ‘i’ with a little circle?” she asks facetiously.
Arriving from her home in Australia with “a moderate depression,” she tells us, she soon discards it among the “nicely dressed people” of Los Angeles, the city she calls “the intellectual capital of the United States.”
She talks about her entrepreneur son, Brucey, noting that the name is “French for failure” and that he is contemplating setting up a chain of Ugandan restaurants. There is also talk of a heat-seeking bedpan powered by a Roomba and of someone who is a high-functioning Ebola victim.
She also mentions Velma, a woman whose house was so filthy that, Edna says, “I tried to drink my coffee without my lips touching the cup.”
By the end of the first act the show had become somewhat tedious, consisting as it does solely of repetitive questions to the people in the front row seats. The second act picked up a bit with her tales of visiting an ashram in India, which she calls “a trailer park for the soul.” Here she learned to drink a parsnip and kale smoothie and met a man who wanted to remain inconspicuous and so signed in as “Leonard Cohen.”
Since her first appearance in a Christmas revue at the University of Melbourne in 1955 her acts have centered around her monologues, interviews and banter with her audience, and a few unremarkable songs and dance numbers by an exotically dressed foursome. She first took her act to America in 1978, where she was trounced by a New York Times critic. She later said that she would have to wait for that critic to die before she could return to the United States.
Fortunately, she can go incognito at will by just taking off her costume, her gaudy jewelry, and her wig and morphing into a pudgy Australian gentleman named Barry Humphries. And if he ever decides to retire his alter ego, Dame Edna, Humphries has many other talents to pursue. He is the author of several books, novels, autobiographies, and plays, and is a well-respected landscape painter. He has two doctorate degrees (one in Law), the CBE (Commander of the British Empire) awarded by Queen Elizabeth, the AO (Officer of the Order), the Australian of the Year award (in 2012) and the Sydney Theatre Lifetime Achievement Award, also in 2012.
Mr. Humphries is married to Lizzie Spender, daughter of British poet Stephen Spender, and they have two sons and two daughters.
Meanwhile, here in Los Angeles the huge audience roared, whistled, and stomped throughout the show. And although they probably weren’t singing Wqyne Barker’s song “You Will Have to Do Without Me Somehow,” I’ll bet some of them, as they exited the theater, were singing “There Is Nothing Like A Dame.”
Dame Edna will be appearing Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 and 8 pm, and Sundays at 1 pm through March 15. There is also a listing of additional performances and a number of individual performances that will not be presented, so call the theater at (213) 972-4400 or go online to www.CenterThreatreGroup.org to determine available tickets.
The Ahmanson Theatre is located at 135 N. Grand Avenue in Los Angeles.
Photo of Dame Edna by Matt Jelonek