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Dame Edna:Back With a Vengeance!

If this weekend marks your first encounter with that Australian national treasure Dame Edna, you might have the same reaction I had when I finally saw famed soprano Leontyne Price, years past her prime: I adored her, mush and swoops and mannerisms and all. Never mind that I, jaded thing that I am 20-odd years after my first diva-worship moment, thought Edna was a little off on the opening night of Dame Edna: Back With a Vengeance! It wasn’t for a lack of dazzle: Our heroine still looks like a lavender-haired linebacker modeling ’70s eveningwear. Nor was it the musical numbers: The good Dame still moves like a linebacker in eveningwear, too, cavorting epileptically and with a vaguely startled expression alongside her leggy backup dancers, the Gorgeous Ednaettes. (That expression is what makes it hysterical: She always looks a little terrified that the rhythm is in fact going to get her, but she gamely gives it her all nonetheless.) No, it was the gags—the lovingly wicked roasting of victims chosen from the first five rows, the deeply caring digs at their clothes and hair and whatnot—that seemed flat. Her bilious old heart didn’t quite seem to be in it, at least early on. If Act 2 seemed better, it wasn’t just because there was bourbon at the lobby bar: If you’re lucky, your audience will also contain a Laurel, Md., police officer and his lovely wife, who’ll be called onstage for a round of Edna’s singularly intrusive marriage counseling. If you’re luckier, it’ll involve (as it did on opening night) a phone call to the cop’s mother, who’ll sound like a chain-smoking, whiskey-swilling Jersey truck driver and who’ll damn near upstage Edna from a couple of hundred miles away. Vengeance is taken nightly at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 2, through Saturday, March 4, with matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 4, and Sunday, March 5, at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. $36.25–$71.25. (800) 447-7400. (Trey Graham)