Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Dame Edna Is Back
Also see Richard's review of Beach Blanket Babylon
Dame Edna Everage, the flamboyant and impishly brilliant Australian entertainer, has returned to San Francisco for a two week stay. A Night with Dame Edna has evolved from her wildly successful 2001 tour, Dame Edna: The Royal Tour, for which she received a 2000 Special Tony Award for a Live Theatrical Event. She was last here in 1998 in the pre-Broadway show of The Royal Tour. This time she holds forth in the larger theatrical house, the Curran Theater.
Dame Edna uses the framework of the old British music hall tradition, with a little song and dance, a little patter and a stirring sing along for the big finish. She has excellent accompaniment by pianist Wayne Barker and for her "dancing," she has two "Ednaettes." She is still the master of insults, but she says them in "the nicest possible way."
John Simon, the esteemed New York theatre critic, has said, "I am prepared to declare him the funniest man in today's theater, also the funniest woman." Well I would not go that far, but she is certainly one of the most entertaining persons to have graced our stages. It is almost impossible to completely describe her two hour with intermission performance since Dame Edna is constantly throwing out zingers. Sometimes some of the topics go on just a little too long for my taste, especially when she is discussing color schemes of a person's bedroom, hallway etc., etc.
Dame Edna seeks to pick out a few of the patsies in the audience to converse with them. In fact, most of her show consists of running conversations with people in the first 10 rows. She mostly picks on women. She is probably the most sincerely insincere person you would ever meet. She draws the women in by expressing deep interesting in all of the humdrum elements of their lives. Then she twists the information against them.
Dame Edna comes out just after a brief movie of her past career, dressed in a pink and silver shift that is really an excessive outfit. Her hair looks like purple cotton candy and those big horn rim jeweled glasses are a hoot. The artist goes into a jolly opening number, singing about why she is in San Francisco. Her ability to work San Francisco references into the song (and into the complete show) is remarkable. She has done her homework on our city.
Dame Edna's opening line is hello, possums!" and she goes right into her act. After shaking hands with one of the men in the first row, she smells her hand and asks, "What have you been handling? Is it fish? Is it cheese? Something in between, I'm afraid." Now you know you are in for a savagely funny night.
Dame Edna knows about the class distinctions of her audience when she looks up at the folks in the balcony and says "hello, paupers." She says she will glance up there "in strict proportion to the amount you paid." She calls them the "mizzies," which is from Les Miserables' "miserable, poor people." She tells them to hold onto their seats and don't lean forward since she does not want a "downpour of the disadvantaged."
Most of the first act is about trendy food like arugula, balsamic vinegar and sun-dried tomatoes. Other topics include residential architecture, such as semi-detached houses, interior design, and persons' clothes. These topics are discussed with certain members of the audience. Needless to say, Edna is not much of a singer since it is mostly off key and she does try to dance but she will never be in Contact.
The second act consists of some of the material that Dame Edna had in the Royal Tour. She comes roaring out in a patriotic all American red, white and blue sequined outfit with white stars shining all over the jacket and a flame red skirt. She talks about her son Kenny who has designed the outfits. (Kenny, who is "mysteriously still unmarried but living with a guy named Cliff ... They are looking for the right girl in the strangest places.") Edna looks out at the audience and says "I am so happy to see friends of Kenny in the audience," and she goes into the song, "Any Friend of Kenny's is a Friend of Mine," with the audience joining in on those words.
Edna also invites two guests to come up to the stage to partake of a meal that comes from a local trendy restaurant. While these two unfortunate souls are eating (on opening night it was two very uncomfortable women), she tells them about her daughter Valmai living in a trailer park with her same sex partner, a former tennis star of Eastern European descent. In this case, the trailer park is in Gilroy (which she mispronounced as Kilroy on opening night). The couple breeds pit bulls. Edna, in telling the gory story abut the filthy condition of the trailer, finds her voice suddenly turning into a basso profundo as she almost "vomits" at the thought of the living conditions. All this to gross out the poor ladies trying to eat their dinner. There is also a segment where she gets people to come on stage to portray members of the Royal Family, which was really not very funny.
The whole evening ends with Edna flinging gladioli into the audience and asking them to wave their flowers and sing along with her for the finale. She exhorts the possums to rise and wave these flowers to and fro. She is one powerful lady and everyone does rise on her orders.
Dame Edna will hold court at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary Street, San Francisco through March 16th. Tickets can be obtained at the Box Office at the Orpheum Theatre Box Office, 1192 Market St, through Ticketmaster at 415-512-7770; at all Ticketmaster ticketcenters; and through ticketmaster.com. For groups of 20 or more, call Group Sales at 415-551-2020.