Saturday, March 15, 2003

The Night Dame Edna Made Me Cry

So Wednesday, after work, I got all gussied up and trundled over to the Curran Theatre with my dear friend and co-worker JB, where we picked up our will-call tickets for A Night With Dame Edna: The Show That Cares. Then we went to Max's-on-Union-Square (which is two blocks away from Union Square, the lying bastards) for dinner, where we drew a waiter addicted to a stupid cartoonish put-on voice and dined on the most utterly divine pork chops (actually, I had utterly divine pork chops while JB had the Mediterranean Chicken... she doesn't eat red meat, and refuses to believe that pork is the Other White Meat).

Then we made our way back to the Curran, began the alpine journey up to the front balcony, stopped to take advantage of the medieval toilet facilities, resumed our strenuous upward trek, and settled in to our second-row seats to await the advent of Dame Edna while enjoying our surroundings as much as possible.

We were warned that photographs weren't allowed, so I couldn't use the flash.

Then the curtain went up and a video screen came down, displaying Edna Through the Ages from her first appearances on Australian television in the 50s to her delicious but tragically short-lived talk-show in the early 90s. Then a great setup of Dame Edna boarding her helicopter and being waved off to her international tour by all the leaders of the world as she buzzed past their palaces and official residences on her way to our fair city. Finally, the video screen disappeared and Dame Edna herself came sailing out onstage in a coat that almost defies description: three-quarter-length, made of silver vinyl with horizontal stripes of brilliant pink marabou, with a big standup pink marabou collar and a little round pink marabou handbag. The pink of the coat clashed with yet somehow complemented the lavender of her immense wig, and her jewels were utterly blinding.

For the next two and a half hours, with a fifteen minute break in the middle (no mere intermission, we were granted a 'pause for reflection'), I laughed so hard that tears streamed from my eyes and I got about a hundred and fifty sit-ups' worth of abdominal contractions. That show was funny!

And it wasn't just a matter of humorous jokes and wry observations (though there were a lot of those). Dame Edna set up an atmosphere in which one forgot that this was a man in a dress and started to believe in Dame Edna's reality. She didn't just entertain the audience, she subjugated us into the hierarchy of her own perfectly realized universe and made us grateful for it.

Her sense of timing was amazing, as was her ability to bring back the beginning of a joke set up several minutes beforehand and give it a punchline that you'd never expect. And her mastery of forced audience participation was something to behold. Working so heavily with an audience can be very dangerous... you never know what you're going to get when you ask an audience-member a question. But her patter was so perfectly developed that it didn't really matter what they said, she had a comeback for every possible variation and would bring back the audience-members' own words to haunt them later in the show.

The costumes, though few, were integral and fascinating. After finishing her opening musical number, into which she wove a surprising number of geographical references, she shed the fuzzy coat to reveal a blinding pink satin cocktail dress with a straight bodice striped with rhinestones, which fed into a hip-band of art deco pink-and-purple rainbows, which in turn fed into three tiers of rhinestone-trimmed pink satin ruffles. In the second act she wore a remarkably vulgar American Flag dress of red-white-and-blue sequins to just below the hips with a soft-pleated red chiffon skirt going the rest of the way to the floor. Along with her silver Queen Mum one-inch heels and society-matron slouch, the overall look was amazing... a sort of glamorized frumpiness, a tawdry elegance.

What I found most amazing was that I could see the underpinnings of the act, as easily as I could see the song cues written out on the floor in chalk (or the topical crib-notes taped to the front of the photograph of her son Kenny, which she holds to her bosom for the song "Friends of Kenny"); I could discern the mechanism behind the illusion... but it didn't in any way diminish my reaction. No suspension of disbelief was required, yet it inspired healthy and honest laughter. If I had drawn a seat on the aisle, I would have been rolling in it.

There was no edge of cruelty in her jibes, when she called us in the balcony "Mizzies" (from les misérables, a "nicer and more upscale word for ‘paupers’") because of the poverty implied by our cheaper tickets, we loved it; when she talked about Seniors as if everyone over the age of seventy were a senile old beast, and gave advice on how to dupe a senior into believing he had been on an expensive cruise, the elderly audience-members laughed as loud as the rest of us. She seemed just as amused by her created reality as we were; she was a part of the audience, just as we were a part of her act, and it was shown to be a cooperative effort without loss of prestige or honor on either side.

Here's what sparked my greatest admiration: the Chronicle's review of the show gave away a lot of the one-liners and the order of the show, and yet when she used those same lines in almost the exact same context of audience-participation (showing her mastery of the mechanism), the jokes were no less funny for having already been told.

Well, there's not much point in recommending that you see the show... it closes tomorrow, and that ends the tour. But if you should feel compelled to burn with jealousy that I got to see it and you didn't... well, feel free.

So anyway, after leaving the theatre, JB and I went to the nearby Lori's Diner and had dessert and decaf before BARTing back to the office and my car. We had a wonderful time together. JB thinks it's a shame that, wonderful companion that I am, I am still single. She encouraged me to start dating so as to share the wealth of my wonderfulness with the world at large... and to give myself more opportunities to wear my rather dashing Burt Pulitzer suit. She acknowledged that dating is an emotionally risky pastime, but reminded me that "nothing ventured, nothing gained." I told her I'd have to get my hair cut first. And meet someone I wanted to date who wasn't repelled by me in some way. And get over some deep-seated neuroses. But once I'd gotten all that out of the way, I will definitely take her advice.

Then the next day I sat down to tell you all about it, but I was kept hopping at work. Then on Friday I was kept hopping again (inspiring a certain amount of resentment... it occurs to me that I am being given more and more responsibility and not more and more money).

And now I have to start hopping yet again pretty soon... I have to put together some music and an outfit for the In Memory Foundation benefit in which I am performing this evening... practically afternoon (I'm to be at The Rainbow Room in Hayward at p.m.)... and I haven't done a thing to prepare yet. I have to get packed, showered, and shaved (a whole lot of shaved... I'm planning to wear this lovely pale green sequined halter with a chiffon skirt, so I have to shave my arms and pits), so as to leave here at 3:30 so I can put my face on and find my way to a club that I've never been to or even seen before. When I get home I have to unpack and repack again for tomorrow — when I have to be prepared to go to church (pray to God the Grandmother sleeps badly tonight so she won't want to go), then to go Musical rehearsals, then go to Martuni's and get back in face for another show, Cookie After Dark, at 6 pm.

So I guess I'd better get cracking! And speaking of crack...

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