Thursday, February 19, 2004

A Nigth With Dame Edna (Playhouse Square Center)


Cleveland audiences are noted for giving standing ovations to theatrical presentations. Never, however, has the Palace Theatre been the setting for the standing “O” given for and orchestrated by Dame Edna Everage. Dame Edna Everage? The character is the creation of Australian, Barry Humphries, who calls herself, an icon and a megastar, among other things. One thing he/she is not is an impersonator. Barry Humphries IS Dame Edna, pure and simple, period! He’s been doing the character since the 70s and he has it down perfectly.

Dame Edna has been credited with being “one of the funniest characters to grace the stage.” She was the winner of the "Special 2000 Tony Award" for Best "Live Theatrical Event" and received the National Broadway Theatre Award for "Best Play" and for "Best Actor.”

During her nearly two-and-one-half hour show, she combines a few patter songs, with chatter in which she addresses the entire audience but singles out some for close scrutiny. She calls them by name, harasses them in a passive aggressive manner, which, according to Dame Edna is “delivered in a tasteful and loving way.” As she says, “I don’t pick on people. I empower them. It’s Australian tough love.”

Two late arrivers were asked their names and why they were tardy. As expected Dame Edna goes on a bit about it. Is she done with them? No! She returns to the latecomers over and over, to the delight of the audience. She addresses a “senior” in the third row, and before he knows it he ends up on stage in Dame Edna’s recreation of the Royal Family of England. She collects audience members’ shoes for a “reading” of their characters. She uses local references with ease. WEWS-TV’s Adam Shapiro, Rocky River, the West side Market vendors who buy tomatoes as Giant Eagle and spread them with manure to give the idea that they are selling organic products, Shaker Heights and Streetsboro all get their share of attention. They are skewered, as is the clothing of audience members, and their decorating skills. Two women end up dining on pasta on stage during the second act. A young couple who Dame Edna declares are having marital problems are dragged onto the stage and a long distance call is made to the woman’s Australian mother who is living in Maryland, so she can be told of their problems and invited to come live with them. No one and nothing is really safe as she talks to people in the boxes on each side of the theater and to the paupers in the balcony, does a monologue about prostrates, and the elderly who have been placed in the “home for the burdened.” Hysteria is the order of night.

In the hands of someone else it could come across as mean-spirited and crude but Dame Edna’s personality puts her audience at ease so even those who were the brunt of her jibes appeared to enjoy themselves.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you are in the right mood, and allow yourself to “let loose”“A NIGHT WITH DAME EDNA” is 2 1/2 hours of some of the funniest material on the planet. Obviously, some didn’t appreciate her double entendres and style of fun as there was a small exodus at intermission. It was their loss! From my perspective, it was one of the most enjoyable evenings of fun I’ve had in the theater.