Edna, we hardly knew ye

Dame Edna Everage Tour
The grand Dame Edna (aka Barry Humphries, center) is back in San Francisco for what she’s calling a final bow in Dame Edna’s Glorious Goodbye: The Farewell Tour at SHN’s Orpheum Theatre through March 22. Photos courtesy of SHN

Tremble those gladdies, possums. Our dear Dame Edna is departing. She’s not shaking off this mortal coil (for her that somehow seems tacky), but she is saying a final goodbye. Sort of. Dame Edna’s Glorious Goodbye: The Farewell Tour is playing SHN’s Orpheum Theatre through Sunday, Feb. 22, and while it feels like comic business as usual for Australia’s greatest import since Vegemite, there is something final-feeling about this farewell.

The inspired creation of comedian Barry Humphries, Dame Edna is a gigastar whose celebrity seemingly knows no bounds. Humphries and his bespectacled alter-ego may be 81 (Edna says she’s approaching 60 “from the wrong direction”), but they’re still pretty light in their high heels. To call Glorious Goodbye a new show is being generous. If you’ve seen any of the Dame’s shows here in the last 17 years, you’ve pretty much seen/heard everything here – and that’s just fine. Consider this a victory lap for one of the great stage comedians. If Edna insults the alarmingly boring attire of her audience once, she does it a dozen times. She picks out some friendly (and poorly dressed, naturally) folks in the audience – Sally, Marja, Heather, Sandra and some old dopey senior citizen who thinks he’s on a cruise but likes the sparkle and movement – and keeps a conversation going with all of them, asking questions about their hum-drum lives and careers. In Act 2 she brings up two unlikely people – Kyle and Judy at Wednesday’s performance – and tells them they’re destined for intimacy. She then marries them and attempts to share the news with their families over a quaint contraption known as a hard-wired telephone. Of course neither Kyle nor Judy could remember any phone numbers because they’re all in their mobile phones. But Kyle, bless his heart, managed to remember his mother’s number only to get her voicemail. Undaunted by, as she put it, her show going down the toilet (“You’ll be able to tell your grandchildren!” she cried), Dame Edna left the world’s weirdest voicemail message, complete with audience participation.

Dame Edna 2

Humphries is simply a genius when it comes to audience participation. “What an attractive woman you are…compared to some of these others,” Edna says to someone sitting too close to the stage. When someone describes her bedspread as burgundy and brown, Edna’s lips do the Everage splits – upper goes north, lower goes south – and the eyes roll. “What color was it originally?” she wonders. He can handle every situation, cover every stumble and unearth every little insult and then smooth it with, “I mean that in a lovely, reverent way.”

Oh, sure. There’s a “show” wrapped around the audience interaction: some songs (with Jonathan Tessero on piano) and some dancers (Ralph Coppola, Brooke Pascoe, Eve Prideaux and Armando Yearwood Jr.), and of course there are well-worn video clips, but in essence, this is the same show we saw when Dame Edna truly broke into the U.S. theater scene in 1998 at the Theatre on the Square (now the San Francisco Playhouse). Playful and insulting, blissfully self-centered and oblivious to much of reality, Dame Edna has always been (and remains) a theatrical invention of the highest order.

Having now been on stage in a dress for 60 years, Humphries can be excused for wanting to step out of the mauve wig and rhinestone swirl and do other things (like rest). The most touching part of the new show, and its only dramatic difference from previous outings is Humphries’ arrival, sans dress and glittery aura, for a bittersweet curtain call. If previous farewell tours were a bit of a joke, this one feels more like the real thing. We’ve been treated to a generous helping of Dame Edna. We’re grateful for every barbed joke and eye roll. We’ll miss the grand Dame, but her legacy – filled with grinning possums and waving gladioli – lives on…at least until the next farewell tour.

Dame Edna’s Glorious Goodbye: The Farewell Tour continues through Sunday, March 22 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets are $40-$210. Call 888-746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com.

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