Dame Edna Everage is surely the most popular and most gifted woman in the world today. Housewife, investigative journalist, social anthropologist, talk-show host, swami, children's-book illustrator, megastar, celebrity spin doctor, and icon.
Well, that's what it says on Dame Edna's Web site. Who am I to disagree?
She is the creation of Australian actor/writer Barry Humphries, a character he invented decades ago. Humphries is 75, but Dame Edna — this ebullient but tart-tongued lady with lilac-colored hair and a fondness for gladiolas — says she is "approaching 60 from the wrong direction, but I am amazingly well preserved, with no cosmetic surgery." The Tony Award winner is currently on "My First Last Tour," which stops at the Colonial Theatre next weekend.
Your "First Last Tour?" Please explain.
I'm not trying to do a Cher. I'm in my element up there on stage. Which is why when I say it's "my first last tour," I'm wondering to what extent I really mean that. I think I would probably not be able to do this without the company of my public.
They do adore you.
I don't say "adulation." This business of leaping to your feet and saying, say, to Liza Minnelli, "We love you, Liza!" — which poor needy little Liza desperately needs — I can't bear it. Two hairdressers came up to me and said, "We love you Edna!", and I said, "I don't love you." That's called honesty. People like the fact that I'm not needy. I think it's a very unappealing thing in the theater.
You have fun with your audience — possums, as you call them — but you mortify them too.
I really invented interactive theater. And when I see people in the front row, or further back, I feel I want to get to know them. To me, the audience is the show. Every night is different because the audience is different every night. And I love to chat with them. I invite people onto the stage, and there are wonderful prizes I give members of the audience. Pretty well every penny of profit is plowed back into that audience.
It's a hard thing to describe. They are getting it back as therapy. They come here, and it's edifying, cathartic, and there's a certain amount of osmosis going on as well. Osmosis, because they see the world through my glasses. All the art of the theater really is someone — a gifted writer or performer — sharing his view of the world, briefly, with an audience who is sick of their own view. They really want to trade in their perception of the universe for someone else's — preferably mine. I'm not making a guarantee, but there are healing properties in my show. The cleaners of the theaters tell me after the show about the things they find. Last night, they found one neck brace, three pairs of false teeth, an artificial leg. People have left no longer requiring these things.
You're like our Lady of Lourdes!
I am a one-woman Lourdes! That's a big claim to make. And it's one Cher doesn't make. Think about it. It is not within her radar.
What are the themes of this show?
The human condition, of course. I'm very interested in how people live and where they live, what they cook, what they ate today, their regimes, their fears, their way of bringing up children, their attitude toward old age, their favorite music. I'm awestruck by the range of my show. I don't think of it as a show, by the way. I think of it as a conversation between two people, where one of them is a lot more interesting than the other. People always say their show is "a meditation" on something. So this is a bit of a meditation on gender and sexuality and death. I'm here to bring a bit of laughter that I think you need, some kind of vitamin that is missing from your emotional diet.
Your daughter is with you this time.
My daughter, she is on stage with me, but it's only at the insistence of her therapist. Valmai is a problem, really. She is dysfunctional, she's given me a lot of trouble, and she's doing what is called community service. So I get her to clean the stage, but she intrudes on the show. I have no control over her. And I'm afraid she even sings an item! The audience is very sweet, and they pretend to enjoy it. I've discussed this at meetings of Megastars Anonymous, and they tell me I'm enabling her. That's the latest buzzword. I'm enabling this girl just by being a loving mother.
Your hair is still colored lilac?
It's my natural color. I did dye it for years, but now I'm letting my own color grow out. I'm very proud of it because I'm in the Guinness book of records, the only woman on the planet with a purple bikini line.