Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
What a Way to Go! – “Dame Edna’s Glorious Goodbye” at the Ahmanson
For the past 60+ years, the extraordinary character of Dame Edna Everidge has been a larger-than-life satiric send-up of megalomania and excess on stages large and small throughout the English-speaking world. Beginning in Melbourne, Australia in the 1950s, this wild creation of Barry Humphries has developed a fan base which includes the British royal family and celebrities from Joan Rivers to Burt Reynolds among a host of others. She won a Tony, too, along the way. Always literally glittering, with her signature flamboyantly bat-winged glasses and her “naturally purple” hair, Dame Edna is unmistakable, as audience after hysterically-laughing audience can attest.
Yet, she, and her 80-year-old creator, are also deciding to slow down. Thus, “Dame Edna’s Glorious Goodbye: The Farewell Tour” has landed at the Ahmanson Theatre. After stints in Australia, Britain, and “all the major cities,” the show has hit Los Angeles, which Dame Edna dubs the home of “some of the smartest people”, to allow us all one last glimpse of a unique talent, and a dying, vaudeville-esque art form exquisitely done. This is something to be celebrated – Dame Edna has lost none of her bite or her panache.
From her opening salvos (looking out at the audience, “you’ve aged!”), to honoring “the paupers” in the upper balconies and abjuring them to hold on tight so they don’t fall out of their seats, to the ribbing of front-row patrons for the size of their houses, their fashion sense, or their age, she is sharp, pointed, occasionally a bit scatological, and consistently, bitingly funny. Humphries has underscored in interviews that satire is the process of saying exactly the opposite of what you mean in order to point out the ridiculousness of your opposition. Dame Edna is expert at that, and the pace never wavers.
In the second half, Dame Edna admits to having returned from an ashram in India where she claims to have found wisdom and given up “the cult of celebrity.” Indeed, she assures her “possums” – as she calls her audiences – that she had been “following a false god.”Of course, her version of eschewing celebrity still comes with a quartet of dancers (Ralph Coppola, Brooke Pascoe, Eve Prideaux and Armando Yearwood, Jr.), a most glamorous, vaguely Indian outfit, and ostrich feather fans. That’s how this comic icon finds her bliss.
And this is and has always been the essence of Dame Edna. From her silly songs, accompanied by Jonathan Tessero on the piano, to her pointed skewering of the pompous, the self-righteous, or the faddish, she has become such a rounded character that, as she flings out her signature gladiolas for everyone to wave and “tremble,” the audience follows her in cheerful glee. The energy never stops for a moment. As she disappears near the end, replaced by a remarkable video of Dame Edna’s long career, Humphries himself appears, in jaunty Victorian smoking jacket and rakish fedora. He speaks with fondness of his creation and his long career, and though it appears it must be, doesn’t quite close the door on the idea that he and Dame Edna may only be saying farewell for now.
Dame Edna is not Humphries’ only creation, though she is the most famous. And though she may be retiring, Humphries does not intend to disappear from the public eye, though the spoken goal is for this octogenarian to slow down, devote more time to his painting, and perhaps – at least close to home – take out one of his other creations for an occasional spin. Still, Dame Edna is a powerful thing to lay aside – so real that her 90s memoir “My Glorious Life” ended up on bookstores’ non-fiction shelves. Though we say farewell, there is always the vague hope we will meet again. On the chance that might not happen, don’t fail to take in her Glorious Goodbye. You won’t regret it for a second.
What: “Dame Edna’s Glorious Goodbye” When: through March 15, 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 p.m. Sundays, with additional performances at 6:30 p.m. Sundays February 8, 15 and 24, 8 p.m. Tuesdays February 10, 17 and 24, and 2 p.m. March 5 Where: The Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave. in downtown Los Angeles How Much: $25 – $115 Info: (213) 972-4400 or http://www.CenterTheatreGroup.org