- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 25, 2003

A warning to the spotlight-shy: don't sit in the first 10 rows of the National Theatre during "A Night With Dame Edna." The very least that might happen to you is getting bopped with a spray of gladiolas.
Under the fierce glare of the house lights, those placed closest to Dame Edna (Australian actor Barry Humphries) are tongue-in-cheekily fawned over, their houses and mode of dress discussed ("I guess all of you read the small print at the bottom of the ticket dress boringly," Dame Edna observed), their private lives delved into at length. A few lucky "possums" "her" favorite pet name get to go onstage for more mischief, such as a hastily assembled portrait of the royal family, or they are treated to a meal from the Old Ebbitt Grill delivered by an aproned waiter. This was one of the funniest bits of the evening, as the two women picked, Pauline and Betty Ann, looked like two baby does who had wandered off from a petting zoo as they were summoned forth to sit at a cozy table with a checkered tablecloth. Dame Edna, resplendent in a Chinese red sequined gown, lavender hair and her trademark harlequin sunglasses, pulled up a chair, and, while the women demurely chewed on pasta, regaled them with stories about her "disappointment" of a daughter, who, as luck might have it, is living in a trailer in Dumfries, Va., raising pit bull puppies with her partner Fern. Sprinkling their salads with balsamic vinegar, "a culinary imperative," Dame Edna roars. "They wouldn't do this sort of thing at 'South Pacific,' now would they?"
Dame Edna refers to the National's box seats as "ashtrays" and the patrons sitting in them as "the mutes," performing mock sign language throughout (needless to say, political correctness is an unheard of term here). Those seated in the balconies are called "the mizzies," short for "Les Miserables." Older people are known as "seniors," as she frequently encourages them to follow "the lights and movement" of the show if they can't get it together to actually see or hear it.
All this is in the name of good, tart fun and, judging by the roaring approval of the audience, nobody minds being insulted. Titled "the show that cares," Dame Edna skewers our fascination with fame, the fabulously rich and megastars who "do" causes, all the while behaving like a self-absorbed, blithe celebrity herself.
The evening has set pieces, including the aforementioned intimate dinner, songs in the English music hall tradition, some delightful interaction with her pianist, Wayne Barker, and a pair of high-kicking chorines called The Gorgeous Edwinettes (Teri DiGianfelice and Michelle Pampena). There is also a segment where she telephones aging mothers who are home alone, their numbers culled from audience members. Dame Fortune was not with Dame Edna on opening night, as she reached two answering machines before hitting on a very stunned, very courteous lady named Mary.
But what wins audiences over is the personalizing of the show. Dame Edna somehow figured out rather quickly that an attached townhouse in Columbia, Md., does not have the same cachet as a Georgetown pied-a-terre, that Bethesda is a happy hunting ground for homes in the Colonial style, and that more Washingtonians go to "Shear Madness" than Shakespearean plays. The audience whooped happily when she spoke of our dowdy fashion sense, referred to CNN as "the Iraq-a-thon" and talked of hobnobbing with Sally Quinn, Oatsie Charles and the lot. The biggest laugh of the night was when she said her "sensitive" son Kenny was devastated to hear that George Stephanopoulos was not only married, but was also a father.
The production is a lavish excuse for Dame Edna to wreak havoc with the audience, which she does with great control and aplomb. The only problem is that the show clocks in at two-and-a-half hours a lot of time to spend with one female impersonator in a lilac wig. Dame Edna seemed to be having such a grand time interacting with the crowd that she got a bit indulgent and neglected to move things along.
But then again, it's not everyday you get to dally with a royally naughty star.
WHAT:"A Night With Dame Edna"
WHEN: Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Through Feb. 2.
WHERE: National Theatre, 13th St. and Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C.
TICKETS:$35-$67.50; 800/447-7400

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