Dame Edna warbles her way through songs and insults audience member like nobody’s business in her new show, Dame Edna: Live and Intimate in Her First Last Tour, at San Francisco’s Post Street Theatre. Photo by kevinberne.com
Familiar shtick hobbles grand Dame’s latest outing
Nobody works an audience like Dame Edna.
Ten years ago, Bay Area audiences were gleefully brutalized by Australian actor Barry Humphries’ most celebrated creation in Dame Edna’s Royal Tour. That show injected new life into the Dame’s late-life career and eventually landed her on Broadway, where she won a special Tony Award.
The last couple times Edna has been back to San Francisco, she has played the Broadway-size Curran Theatre, but now that she’s back to celebrate both her 10th anniversary revival in San Francisco and her 50th year in show business, she’s back in the cozy confines of the Post Street Theatre, where we fell for her a decade ago (when the space was called Theatre on the Square).
In Dame Edna: Live and Intimate in Her First Last Tour, which opened Sunday and continues into early January, the glittery, mauve-haired dame holds court in all the usual ways – and that’s both a joy and a problem.
When it comes to interacting with – and insulting – audience members, Edna is in a class all her own. She insults the folks in the balcony, chiding them for their poverty, though instead of calling them paupers this time out, she describes them as “nouveau pauvre” and calls them Les Miserables.
She makes fun of a woman near the stage for attempting to make her own clothes and failing miserably, and then chides senior citizens for being old and attempts to dazzle them by jiggling the rhinestones on her glittery dress.
There’s the traditional tossing of the gladioli at the end of the show and references to her gay son Kenny, though Edna is still hoping he’ll meet Ms. Right someday. She leads the audience in the sing-along “Friends of Kenny,” which she says has become her signature song since introducing it during the Royal Tour. Andrew Ross capably accompanies Edna and gives her a few polite nudges when she veers off track.
The frocks (designed by John Van Gastel and Stephen Adnitt) are garishly gorgeous – the puffy, rainbow jacket that opens the second act might actually be a parade float – and the winged spectacles are as sparkly as ever.
Even though we meet Edna’s estranged daughter Valmai (played by the wonderful San Francisco actress Erin-Kate Whitcomb, who really could stand to be more than just a glorified stage assistant), there’s not much new in this outing.
Edna befriends women in the audience and later invites them up on stage to be part of a proposed HBO talk show. Opening night’s group was less than scintillating, though there was a woman celebrating her 93rd birthday who had been singled out by the Dame at a show 10 years ago.
The first act ends with Edna marrying two of her audiences members (never mind that one was gay and the other was already married), and that’s a cute bit. This is where Edna hauls out the telephone and attempts some improv comedy with a stranger. After a few answering machines, Edna finally got a livewire human, and the show, as Edna had predicted, did not go down the toilet.
As a big Edna fan, I have to express disappointment that this show offers us very little we haven’t seen before. In interviews leading up to his show’s opening, the 74-year-old Humphries said that this show would see the American debut of one of his other characters, cultural attaché Sir Les Patterson, but he’s nowhere to be seen. He appeared in the Austin run of this show but has disappeared.
There is a surprise guest in the show, but the appearance is part of an awkwardly structured ending that isn’t nearly as satisfying as it should or could be.
As familiar as much of the material seems, Humphries is still a deft comedian, and Edna gets off some very funny lines. She says she has adopted a baby from “the same village where Madonna shops for her loved ones.”
And she bought Sarah Palin an Atlas and sent it care of the North Pole. But Palin, though happy with the gift, was disappointed in it because she couldn’t find “overseas.”
The subtitle of the show is “A meditation on gender and post-election trauma,” which is a bit of a joke because the show is neither. If Edna mentioned President-elect Obama, I missed it. She did mention Lehman Brothers and the bombed-out crater that is the stock market, but the focus of the show is on audience interaction.
When you go to the show – and if you haven’t ever seen Dame Edna, you really should at least once – dress nicely or you’ll hear about it. And if one-on-one interaction with an Australian gigastar who’s actually a man in a dress scares you, consider sitting in the balcony.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Dame Edna: Live and Intimate in Her First Last Tour continues through Jan. 4 at the Post Street Theatre, 450 Post St., San Francisco. Tickets are $58-$78. Call 415-771-6900 or visit www.ticketmaster.com for information.