No longer a fan of the Dame

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Dame Edna, aka Barry Humphries

Way back in the day, I remember being so thrilled to see “Dame Edna” on TV. It was always like getting a little glimpse to a different world that I knew, somehow, I belonged in. No, Dame Edna wasn’t a lesbian. And yes, I know that Barry Humphries, the Australian man who created and personifies her, is not a gay man. Still, he was a man in a dress, pretending to be a woman, and that was — at the time — close enough for me.

Dame Edna has, of course, always drawn a gay audience. And why not? This is, basically, a drag queen elevated to mega-stardom before RuPaul got his own reality competition TV show. But as of today, I can tell you this is one gay person (me) who is no longer a fan of the Dame. Not after hearing what Humphries had to say about Caitlyn Jenner and transgender women in general.

According to an article by Bil Browning in The Advocate, in an interview published Jan. 4 in The Telegraph, a British newspaper, Humphries called Jenner “a publcity-seeking ratbag” as part of his vigorous defense of his friend and fellow Australian, feminist Germaine Greer. It’s not that I am a big Caitlyn Jenner fan. It’s what Humphries said about trans people in general that pisses me off.

Last month, Greer attacked Jenner, accusing her of “stealing the limelight” from her notorious family, the Kardashians, and doubled down on her condemnation of transgender women in general, saying, as Browning notes, that trans women are not actually women and that they don’t “look like, sound like or behave like” women. And earlier, in a written statement she issued after canceling a scheduled appearance at Cardiff University after trans advocates protested, Greer declared: “Just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a fucking woman. I’ve asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I’m going to wear a brown coat but that won’t turn me into a fucking cocker spaniel… A man who gets his dick chopped off is actually inflicting an extraordinary act of violence on himself.”

That right there is enough to convince me to never ever support or endorse in any way anything Germaine Greer might have to say. And Humphries, as far as I am concerned, joined Greer on my blacklist when he defended her in The Telegraph.

“I agree with Germaine!,” he told the newspaper. “You’re a mutilated man, that’s all. Self-mutilation, what’s all this carry on? Caitlyn Jenner – what a publicity-seeking ratbag. It’s all given the stamp – not of respectability, but authenticity or something. If you criticise anything you’re racist or sexist or homophobic.”

He went on say that even though he isn’t particularly conservative, he is disgusted by the increasing level of political correctness in college students and feminists. He told The Telegraph, “I don’t know anything about politics. But the far left is so conservative, paradoxically, inflexible, doctrinaire and humorless. You can’t describe the world as it is any more. You get jumped on. I’m happy to say I do. I give offense therefore I am. Not too much offense, though.”

Not too much offense, Mr. Humphries? Enough, I’d say. Enough to lose this former fan.

According to Wikipedia, Humprhies said in March 2012 that he would be retiring Dame Edna at the end of his then-current tour. In 2013, however, he announced he had decided to bring her back. Too bad, if you ask me. Some old dinosaurs should stay extinct.

—  Tammye Nash

Clouseau, but no cigar

stage-1
LA CAGE AUX FOOLS A mobster (G. Shane Peterman, above) rejects his girlfriend (Whitney Hennen, below) because of his feelings for ‘Victor’ (Ashley Puckett Gonzales, below right) in the cross-dressing musical. (Photos courtesy Mike Morgan)

There’s pink but no panther in Blake Edwards’ drag musical ‘Victor/Victoria’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

I have to confess: I am not fully convinced Wendy Williams is really a woman. The first time I saw a promo for her talk show, I assumed it was on Bravo or Logo, and meant as a joke — an African-American Dame Edna.

That kind of gender confusion is at the heart of Victor/Victoria, the 1982 Blake Edwards movie later adapted into a 1995 stage musical about a Jazz Age British singer who becomes a Paris sensation only because everyone thinks she’s a he.

stage-2It’s really nothing much different than My Fair Lady, where a Svengali-esque linguist crafts a guttersnipe into a lady, passing her off to society as something she isn’t. (Interestingly, both originally starred Julie Andrews.) Here, boozy gay lounge singer Toddy (Paul Taylor) takes wannabe cabaret act Victoria (Ashley Puckett Gonzales), creates a back-story for her as Victor, Poland’s greatest female impersonator, and wows everyone astonished that a man is so convincingly feminine. Along the way, there are questions of mistaken identity as American mobster King Marchand (G. Shane Peterman) finds himself uncomfortably attracted to “Victor.”

In many ways, it’s a cutting-edge comedy of contemporary mores, with the film well ahead of its time, dealing with gender-bending in a surprisingly tolerant and off-handed (if slapstick-heavy) manner. In the post-Queer Eye, post-Drag Race era, it’s perhaps less edgy, but there’s some poignancy about acceptance underneath all the French farce door-slamming and bed-hopping.

Which is not to say the script is well written. I doubt you’ll find many people who will defend its structure. It’s messy, with few good buttons to end scenes, some parts that drag (not the good kind of drag) and a few puzzlingly-placed moments best abandoned altogether.

In Uptown Players’ production currently at the Kalita Humphreys, some — not all — of those weaknesses are less obvious. The score, a pastiche of 1930s-style jazz with Broadway flash layered on top, has few memorable hits (the best, “Le Jazz Hot,” was composed for the movie 30 years ago), but the band plays and the cast sings it all well, all on a fabulous and mobile set that makes great uses of the Kalita’s space.

What it doesn’t do especially well is conjure up both the glamour of Old Paris and the camp extravagance of the drag world. It would be hard to over-play the flamboyance of a Parisian nightclub in interbellum, but this one does. The “Victor-as-drag-queen” scenes don’t fully work because Victoria doesn’t look like a drag queen. She may be meant to be convincingly female, but RuPaul accomplishes that with glamazon femininity that still leaves you asking, “Could she be…?” Gonzales, in ill-fitting costumes and too-tasteful makeup, has no panache as Victor. Androgyny is one thing, but Victor needs dazzle to make King’s obsession with her seem authentic.

She could learn a move or five from Whitney Hennen, who steals the show as King’s ditzy platinum blonde moll Norma. Bubbly and empty-headed as Lina Lamont, she turns eating a piece of chocolate from throw-away stage business into comic art, all with an excess that rises to the level of farce Edwards established in his Pink Panther movies. (The best scene, in fact, may be the dance of characters sneaking in and out of the bedrooms, which director Cheryl Denson choreographs beautifully.)

In the wake of Dallas Theater Center’s recent awesome production of Cabaret — and Uptown’s own high-bar-setting Next to Normal — Victor/Victoria seems incidental, though considered on its own, there’s much to enjoy, especially as a respite from the August heat. Here life is a cabargay, old chum. Come to the cabargay.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas