Review

Dame Edna offers 'Glorious,' cheeky zaniness at Ahmanson

Charles McNulty
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Theater Critic
Review: Dame Edna dished it out with sharp-tongued relish during her 'Glorious Goodbye' at the Ahmanson

Dame Edna, the imperious suburban Melbourne, Australia, hausfrau with the purple wig and lacerating tongue, has never seen any connection between winning friends and influencing people.

Her fans flock to her performances for the privilege of being told that they are badly dressed, pathetically coiffed and basically peons on her grand theatrical estate.

At Wednesday's opening of "Dame Edna's Glorious Goodbye: The Farewell Tour" at the Ahmanson Theatre, one poor soul was caught reading her program while Edna was scouring the auditorium for her next victim. The next few minutes were an improvised riff on this woman's train of thought: "Today I feel like a good old read. I know, I'll go to the Ahmanson and sit in the middle of the third row of Dame Edna's show!"

After intermission Edna announced with a shrug that the bookish woman hadn't returned to her seat. Fortunately there was still Anji from Highland Park to pick on. Upon meeting this woman, Edna had been immediately struck by the distinctive spelling of her name ("We all have to struggle for individuality").

Always deeply interested in real estate, she pursued a hard line of questioning on home decor with members of the audience, uncovering in the process that Anji with a "j" has a red bedroom. Were it not for the "senior" in the front orchestra who Edna wanted to make sure was alive and mentally competent we might still be pondering the implications of this fascinating discovery.

Barry Humphries may be 80, and this may or may not be his alter ego's swan song, but comedy is still a contact sport for the Australian entertainer. His stand-up style is a mix of Joan Rivers, Don Rickles, the queen mother and a boxing kangaroo.

What distinguishes Humphries, beyond the outlandish drag, is the elegance of his phrasing. Empty seats are "beige plush tombstones in memory of subscribers" whose deaths prevented them from showing up. A continual worry is that those in the balcony cheap seats might fall while trying to get a better view, setting off a "Niagara of nonentities."

This "Glorious Goodbye" begins with a video threatening to expose "the real story of Dame Edna Everage." There are cameos by Kelly Osbourne, Hugh Jackman and Geoffrey Rush, all shedding light on Edna's monstrous megalomania and, well, let's just call it inappropriateness and leave it at that.

Almost the entire first half of the production, directed by Simon Phillips, is devoted to Edna's exchanges with the audience. The spontaneity of Edna's wit is dazzling — she can find levity in the humiliated mumbles of a theatergoer sinking lower and lower in her seat. But there is a law of diminishing returns. By the time the sixth or seventh victim is brought to the dock of Edna's attention, the humor loses some of its electricity and our program grows more dangerously tempting to read.

The production includes a few brief musical interludes with a small chorus of dancers. These comical numbers, gingerly performed by Humphries, are more or less perfunctory spritzes of pizazz.

The overstretched second half begins with Edna's report on her trip to India, where she ate, prayed, and eventually found love with a Balinese boy toy. This is followed by an audience participation segment, in which Edna solemnizes the marriage between two perfect strangers, one of whom happened to be already married. (A mere technicality for the high priestess of these nuptials!)

Humphries was in a most generous mood with the quantity of his show. There was a moment or two, I'll confess, when Mr. Bennet's words to his singing daughter in "Pride and Prejudice" ran through my mind: "You have delighted us long enough." Yet all it took was some nicely worded loopiness ("the Gospels were the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' of their day") to whet our appetites for more zaniness.

Naturally, the show concludes with a gladioli pageant, long de rigueur for Edna. This time around, however, there was a certain poignancy to the floral parade, as it's not clear whether Edna will pass our way again. As theatergoers waved their stalks in homage to the great Dame, the Ahmanson turned into an indoor garden of delight.

A video snafu at the end messed up the prelude to Humphries' final bow, but when he came out in manly attire, a modern-day Oscar Wilde of advanced years, he graciously bid the audience adieu — until the next time Edna's farewell tour rolls around.

Twitter: @CharlesMcNulty

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'Dame Edna's Glorious Goodbye: The Farewell Tour'

Where: Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. Sundays (call for exceptions). Ends March 15.

Tickets: $25 to $115 (Prices subject to change.)

Info: (213) 972-4400 or http://www.centertheatregroup.org

Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes

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