Regional Reviews: Chicago
Dame Edna: Back With A Vengeance!
Australia's ideal of an egalitarian, classless society must surely have a lot to do with the creation of its current leading export: the venerable Dame Edna! (Somehow it seems inappropriate to use her name without an exclamation point somewhere in the same sentence). Though Australians consider themselves to have an exceptional ability to see each citizen as good as the next, there must certainly be Aussies who suffer from just the tiniest bit of pride, and who must have inspired Barry Humphries' drag alter ego the self-proclaimed "most popular and gifted woman in the world today." Though satirical barbs at the proud are hardly unique to Australians, who else but an Aussie could create a character that seems to truly love everyone, even as she feels ever so slightly superior? Dame Edna Everage is undoubtedly the first among equals, and as loving of the "miserables" who can only afford to witness her show from lower-priced balcony seats as she is of her dear friends like George W. Bush (to whom, she tells us, she gave a gift of a Word-a-Day Calendar).
Back With A Vengeance made the seventh stop of its ten-city tour in Chicago, with essentially the same cast and production that played on Broadway last season. "Master of the Dame's Musick" (accompanist and composer) Wayne Barker and "Gorgeous Ednaettes" Teri DiGianfelice and Michelle Pampena are again with the grand dame - the Broadway production's male "equally gorgeous TestEdnarones" are not. The general outlines of the show are the same she again brings a young couple out of the audience for marriage counseling and recruits others in the house to act in her stage autobiography (a musical by Stephen Sondheim and David Mamet with "lots of words," she explains). Her few specially inserted local references are funny rather than gratuitous. She attributes the empty seats in the house as paid for by dearly departed subscribers from the Chicago suburbs giving perhaps the funniest utterance ever of the name of the tony village Win-NET-ka.
The magic of Dame Edna is the way she delivers her put-downs with such kindness, as when she empathetically reminds an older woman in the audience that the woman's name, Gloria, is "not a name we hear much any more, is it dear?" Or when she confesses to the audience that at the beginning of the show, she didn't really like us very much. Though clearly, we have not been blessed with her grace, taste and intelligence (or her elegant sets by Brian Thomson and costumes by Steven Adnitt and Will Goodwin), it's clear she loves us just the same. Her ability to be both an exemplar of Australian egalitarianism (she values and feels superior to all, regardless of supposed class or station) and a caricature of those she satires are what make her so outrageous and lovable at the same time.
Dame Edna: Back With A Vengeance plays the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago, through March 19, 2006. Ticket information is available at www.BroadwayinChicago.com.