Cloak & Daggers, a local LGBT-owned and -operated fundraising theater company, is bringing award-winning impersonator Scott Mason to Philly to step into the shoes, wig and dazzling glasses and dresses of Dame Edna.
“Nothing Like a Dame ... Edna: A Night of Comedy with Dame Edna’s Honorary Understudy Scott Mason” runs for a limited engagement of shows Feb. 10-19.
The iconic character was created and performed for decades by Australian comedian Barry Humphries; she became known far and wide for her purple hair, bejeweled cat-eye glasses and biting wit.
Mason said he started impersonating Dame Edna more than a decade ago as a one-time gig to fit in with a party theme.
“I started out in 2003 and it was a growing thing,” he said. “It was a whim. I went to a Halloween party that a friend of mine in community theater had and the theme was ‘Go as your favorite TV personality but opposite gender.’ I had watched Dame Edna as a college student when I was watching ‘Benny Hill’; she came on afterwards. I was like, ‘This will be easy’: Just spray-paint a wig pink and find some glitzy glasses and away I went. I never thought I would be doing this. I’ve written and done plays but I’d never done stand-up comedy or been a Dame Edna impersonator. I went to my first impersonator convention in 2008 and said, ‘Holy crap, there’s an industry around this.’”
He found out just how much of an industry there was when he was singled out by Humphries as worthy of taking on the mantle of Dame Edna.
In 2010, the producers of “All About Me,” a Broadway show featuring the real Dame and Michael Feinstein, had a publicity stunt where they advertised open auditions in Playbill for Dame Edna’s honorary understudy.
“I applied and got in,” Mason said, “and there was about a dozen of us who auditioned for Michael Musto and a couple of other people. Basically, I won that contest. The show itself kept getting rewritten and closed in two weeks.”
Dame Edna has been a fixture on film, television, print and stages since before many of us were born, yet her character has always stayed hip and somewhat edgy despite the changes in culture and fashion.
Mason said the Dame’s charm and satirical outlook on life never really go out of style.
“The whole idea is she gets away with murder in terms of the wit and criticism she brings to America,” he said. “For whatever reason, the purple hair or the spectacle of the character, people can laugh along with it while laughing at themselves. She’s really brutal with American political correctness, which she calls the New American Puritanism. It’s just amazing what I can get away with in that character. It’s like listening to your grandmother. Even if she’s a racist bitch, it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s an old lady so it’s OK.’”
Something tells us that American political correctness and the New American Puritanism are going to go through some drastic changes very quickly.
Mason knows the American comedy landscape of 2017 isn’t the same as it was a few short months ago and admitted he still hasn’t fully figured out how Dame Edna is going to navigate this evolving America.
“That’s a tricky question,” he said when asked how our new presidential administration could change Edna’s act. “One could get shot or arrested answering that question in America. To tell you the truth, it’s tricky ground. I’ve been thinking about it. Pre-election, it was easy to joke about it. I’m an equal-opportunity offender. I can joke about Trump and I joked about Hillary. Now there’s no Hillary, it’s just the president of the United States, not that they can’t be a target. But even in comedy, it’s a real mixed bag of thoughts and sentiments. It’s pretty scary actually. I may avoid it, to be totally honest with you, because my thing is, I want the show to be fun. The Dame has a lot of fans in the LGBT community and the NPR community and it’s dangerous to assume that everyone in the audience is liberal and Democratic. They tend to be but not everyone is going to be. So I don’t know what I’m going to say about it.”
We also asked Mason if people perceive Dame Edna as a drag act or a theatrical creation. He went with the latter.
“Neither Barry Humphries nor myself label [Dame Edna] as a drag queen,” he said. “There are drag shows where men are dressed amazingly and look like women. I look at this like Milton Berle or Benny Hill or Flip Wilson. I believe it’s a character but I think because Dame Edna has always been an ally, even before it was trendy. Though she doesn’t recognize it, she talks about her son Kenny being a fashion designer and a window dresser and he lives with this guy and they’re really great roommates but he’s looking for the right woman. It’s a very funny bit and I think that that character has always resonated with the LGBT community — perhaps because it’s a man pretending to be a woman, and convincingly so, not mockingly. To me, that is a huge commitment. It’s like playing King Lear, like playing any other character: You have to make it real. Sometimes friends will give me jewelry or dresses for the Dame, and I’ve said, ‘No, no, no. The Dame would never wear that.’ She’s real. She’s a character and she has to be honored as such.”
Cloak & Daggers Theatre presents “Nothing Like a Dame ... Edna: A Night of Comedy with Dame Edna’s Honorary Understudy Scott Mason” Feb. 10-19 at Penn’s Landing Playhouse, 211 S. Columbus Blvd. Proceeds from the performances benefit the Philadelphia Dance Foundation and other children’s charities. For more information, visit www.cloakanddaggers.org.