'Dame Edna: The First Last Tour'

Australian comic actor Barry Humphries repackages his classic character for the austerity age.

Australian comic actor Barry Humphries repackages his classic character for the austerity age in the Ahmanson’s “Dame Edna: The First Last Tour.” Bereft of backup dancers and glitzy pyrotechnics, the Empress of Insult is free to engage, unplugged, in her favorite pastimes: manifesting her outrageous self-absorption and twitting her audience in what she deems “a conversation between two people, one of whom is much more interesting than the other.”

A fitfully funny video parody of “E! True Hollywood Story” serves as prologue, and there are contributions from pianist Andrew Ross and Edna’s much-discussed, finally seen butchy daughter Valmai (Erin-Kate Whitcomb, performing a deliciously lubricious “Girl From Ipanema” in a Dept. of Corrections orange jumpsuit).

Otherwise, this is Dame Edna Everage more in sheer standup mode than ever before. Adorned in lame and pink, she prowls a draped, gladiola-festooned stage to mock celebs du jour, announcing she’s adopting a baby from an African nation she can only remember as “Chlamydia,” though we’re assured it’s “from the same village where Madonna shops for her little ones.”

But Edna can self-aggrandize best against civilian targets, and Humphries has a keen eye for spectators ripe for teasing about their hairstyles or lifestyles. He has done his site-specific homework, too: The first huge opening-night roar came when an audience member’s proud announcement of living in Beverly Hills was greeted with a curious “Which side of Wilshire?”

Edna corrals her chosen victims into an impromptu onstage chatshow, fearlessly probing into their personal lives, including queries about whether husbands are still alive. (“Laughter is such an odd vehicle for bereavement, isn’t it?,” she muses as widow and crowd alike break up.)

A weepy or boring volunteer could send it all into the Dumpster, but then the entire “First Last Tour” is a tightrope act characteristic of the best improv.

Indeed, one feels Edna straining as never before against the proscenium arch’s chasm that separates her from an adoring public. Maybe at 75 she’d be loath to take on Vegas, but what fun to set a rhinestoned, glitterized Don Rickles circulating nightly around a loungeful of inebriated, high-rolling possums. One’s gladiolas tremble at the thought.

Dame Edna: The First Last Tour

Ahmanson Theater; 1,642 seats; $90 top

Production

A Center Theater Group presentation of a Harley Medcalf production of an entertainment in one act, devised and crafted by Barry Humphries with additional material by Andrew Ross.

Creative

Costumes, John Van Gastel, Stephen Adnitt; lighting, Thomas Hague; sound, Elton P. Halley; hairstylist, Marcus Fokken; production stage manager, James W, Gibbs. Opened, reviewed June 10, 2009. Runs through June 21. Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

Cast

With: Barry Humphries, Andrew Ross, Erin-Kate Whitcomb.

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