by Margaret Croyden

Dame Edna, Back with a Vengeance, And what a dame she is.

Photo of Margaret Croyden
Margaret Croyden is a theater reviewer and essayist for the New York Theatre Wire.

Devised and written by Barry Humphries
The Music Box Theatre
239 West 45th Street
Reviewed November 23, 2004 by Margaret Croyden

If you have never seen "Dame Edna," do not wait. Go, run, beg, borrow, steal money, and get in line for a ticket, before she sells out, as she surely will. You'll never be sorry. This is truly the funniest, wittiest, cleverest show in town and one that will keep you cheerful for a couple of days. Which is more than I can say for this season with its dreadful revivals and its dull, pretentious, so called serious political dramas. Yes, "Dame Edna Is back with a Vengeance" and she is still as wicked as ever, as charming in all her nastiness, and cleverly satirical and thoroughly witty. No small accomplishments.

As everyone must know by now Dame Edna is a man, Barry Humphries who is unrecognizable in his getup--the outrageous wig, the tons of fake rings and brackets, the ugly diamond trimmed glasses, the lavishly clashing colored sequins gowns and tiaras and what not. All rouged and lipsticked, all red nailpolished, all done up, Dame Edna comes on stage, swinging, singing, dancing and outrageously playing with the audience. What's more she has gorgeous legs perched on high heels, and she must be in her late sixties, or even in her early seventies but she is agile, graceful and extraordinarily energetic, a match for the chorus girls and boys who surround her.

Holding the stage for over two hours, one wonders how Edna--Barry Humphries--no longer young, can do it. But his is an incredible performance. A master of satire and a master of the insult with out seeming to be insulting, because she/he emanates a certain kind of joy and even sweetness underneath the bitchery of the character. Edna is wicked but not hateful; nasty, but funny, as she makes her social and political commentary on everything. Not too nice to President Bush, to marriage, to the Queen, to people in the balcony, to the elders in the audience, to everyone and everything and in particular, to all kinds of social conventions. For nothing and no one is immune from Edna. What is so brilliant about this performance is that despite her put-down on all and everything, the audience adores her. At the end when she throws hundreds of gladiolas into the audience and asks them to join her in a song , you know that this has been a genius at work.

And this genius is evident not only by her standup monologues, but her uncanny ability of knowing who engage with in the audience. In the preview I saw just before the official opening, she chose people to talk to who were sitting up front --an elderly man, and two ordinary looking women. One lived in Flushing and the other in New Jersey. And you can imagine the conversation, and the fun she had at their expense. Quick on the uptake, her retorts are always witty, sometimes hilarious, and always wicked. But everything seems improvised. Apparently she has a quick wit and a quick answer for all occasions. And she is comical. Which is the most important part of it all.

And there is the ridiculous play that she puts on with these people from the audience. And what a masterly job. They are given scripts and are made to act. And it's hilarious. What's more, the people doing love it. They have the time of their lives. And we in the audience are howling with laughter. How she could pull this off is astounding. Truly a remarkable artist.

As I said, you miss this show at your peril. So as Dame Edna might say, "possums, you had better show up --or else...." So go quickly to the box office, or to the phone, or to the web and invite your whole gang. Dame Edna is waiting for you.   [Croyden]

Margaret Croyden's most recent book is "Conversations With Peter Brook, 1970-2000" published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

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