Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

There is nothing like a Dame

June 09, 2009

Barry Humphries as Dame Edna
Photo: Greg Gorman 2009

This week, I caught Barry Humphries' return to Los Angeles in another of his wonderful raucous Dame Edna revues at the Ahmanson Theater. At 75, Humphries has made a comic career out of a wide variety of performances, books, and other projects. But nothing quite compares to the unique achievement of having created and channeled Dame Edna Everage on and off in many places for nearly half a century. The comic and his feisty satirical alter ego seem to grow bigger and bigger over time and their seemingly effortless conquering of the American Theater in the last decade has been hard won and continues to produce more laughs in a single evening than you’re likely to find anywhere else.

The current show travels under the name Dame Edna: My First Last Tour though there’s really no further mention of it being a farewell of any kind. It’s a meaner and leaner show than previous outings with only a pianist, an on-stage assistant, and a single costume change. There are two short video segments, but otherwise this is about a one-on-one interaction with Dame Edna and her public. Anyone who has had any prior exposure to Dame Edna's madness will recognize all the elements easily. She arrives in a gaudy sequined gown and shocking purple hair to sing a couple of songs and delivers 2 hours worth of the most biting backhanded compliments one could imagine. Of course, it’s all quite genteel with copious amounts of good humor and kind spirit. Not to say that everything is clean and safe. Humphries can push all the right satirical buttons on topics from international adoption to class distinction. To be honest, though, if you’ve seen Dame Edna’s prior visits to LA or NY, there are more than a few bits that you’ll recognize a second time around. Good bits, mind you, but nonetheless familiar ones.

So why should you go? Well, besides the fact that the whole thing is quite funny, the real thrill is Humphries’ very quick wit and his superior skill at improvising with an audience. Sure there is a road map with questions about certain up front audience members’ jobs and homes. And Dame Edna drags some of these same marks up on stage for a manufactured skit – this time a prototype talk show with her questioning them about various topics while they are seated on a large couch. But it’s the quick reactions and ability to catch openings with such deft wit and skill that make the show. As always, everything ends with Dame Edna tossing gladiolas into the audience and encouraging them to wave their stems high in the air. It’s familiar stuff but undoubtedly two hours of laughter and an escape from everything else you wouldn’t have otherwise. It runs through the 21st of June.


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