All subcategories of the performance arts have their eternal masters. Classical guitar has Segovia, ballet has Nureyev, and drag queen put-down comedy has Barry Humphries, in the guise of Dame Edna Everage.
For some 40 years, Dame Edna has been tottering about in her heels and excessive sequin-drenched costumes, skewering various breeds of pomposity with her falsetto Australian accent. And while it would be a leap to call any Dame Edna performance impromptu, since her presumptively ad-lib punch lines have been honed to a fine edge, it's amazing to see how she weaves an ever-multiplying number of running jokes and songs into a marathon of hilarity.
That said, the opening performance of A Night With Dame Edna at Playhouse Square had its frumpy side. It's like being force-fed 10 mixing bowls full of meringue: swallowing is easy, giggly fun, but at some point, you begin to long for something more substantial. Famous for customizing her show to include local references, Edna made few such asides on this night. One might assume her comedic grasp of local issues has increased during the run, after thumbing through our town's fish-wraps for more than a week, and they would now play a larger part in the content of the show. But her audience-focused gibes are often a stitch ("Do you believe in reincarnation, possums? Because you look like you used to be something") and are interspersed with canned patter about the paupers occupying the cheap seats in the balcony and a random collection of cultural punching bags. She delivers everything with the unerring timing of a stand-up veteran, commenting on the foolishness of the brazen nitwit who decided to market rotten vegetables "hissing with putrefaction" as sun-dried tomatoes. Then she spins out tales about her grown children, including the curiously fey Kenny ("He's a wizard with yards of crêpe paper and a staple gun") and her lesbian daughter who lives with a retired Czech tennis pro.
Never shying away from easy targets, Edna frequently muses on the vagaries of senior citizens -- a group to which she no doubt belongs, regardless how good her legs look. She has great fun with the wrinkly set, whether she's pointing out an elderly audience member ("Poor thing, he has no idea where he is") or explaining how to save money by fooling your family's bewildered oldster into thinking he's been taken on a vacation: When he's napping, sprinkle sand in his crevices and shine a heat lamp on his face. When he wakes up, tell him he just came back from Acapulco.
In the second act, Edna brings some perplexed patrons onstage to participate in skits or to be served a pasta dinner, after which she tosses a wheelbarrow's worth of gladioli into the audience, urging everyone to "Hold up your glads (or whatever you have at hand) and thrust, thrust, thrust!" It's a stirring ending to a show that will leave you tired from laughing and, ultimately, just a bit tired of this grand Dame's gold-plated shtick.