Sunday, April 23, 2006

Theater Review: Sandra Bernhard's 'Everything Bad and Beautiful'

On March 29, one of my favorite cutting-edge performers, the incomparable Sandra Bernhard, opened her latest show, Everything Bad and Beautiful, at the Darryl Roth Theater in New York City. It's great to have Sandy back on Off-Broadway (where she truly belongs), so in celebration of the diva's return, I am posting my review of the Los Angeles production of EBAB, which I attended last March. Hope some of you folks get a chance to check the show out in NYC. Wish I was there!

Sandra Bernhard
Everything Bad and Beautiful
Silent Movie Theatre, Los Angeles. Through March 25 (2005).

In her latest stage show, La Bernhard ditches the stream-of-consciousness improv rants that have dominated (and cluttered) her last few tours for a return to the scripted monologues and anecdotal storytelling that have defined her most notable shows, the classic Without You I’m Nothing (1988) and her 1992 off-Broadway comeback I’m Still Here Damn It.

Though much was made over her alleged inclusion of “greatest hits” material, Everything Bad and Beautiful was largely made up of brand new monologues and stories, with only a few brief references to shows past. The title was also somewhat of a misnomer, as there was less of the “bad” on hand (Bernhard’s biting social commentary was in tact for a few early rants against Barbara Bush and Condeleeza Rice, while a pointed but well-intended jab at Britney Spears’ interest in the Kabballah elicited chuckles) and a lot more of the “beautiful” to take up the slack—complete with Bernhard opening the show with an irony-free rendition of Christina Aguiler’s “Beautiful” that immediately brought the crowd (which included Jennifer Tilly, Gilmore Girls’ Melissa McCarthy, and, of course, tons of gay men) to its feet.

This was a kindler, gentler Bernhard, one who finds maternal joy in watching daughter Cicely sleeping at night and who revels in getting in touch with her spiritual nature. Though her trips down memory lane as a hairdresser in 1970s Los Angeles and her commentary on trendy L.A. hipsters (“It’s so nice to be back in my wonderful L.A., where the people are real,” she deadpanned) were amusing, it was in the many musical numbers that Bernhard truly shined. Her fascination with Prince and his Revolution-era crew continued in a medley of tunes that included “I Would Die 4 U” and Sheila E.’s “The Glamorous Life” (complete with a surprisingly solid glow-in-the-dark drumstick solo from Sandy herself), while her take on “Like a Rolling Stone” was almost right up there with Dylan’s himself.

Looking fabulous in a sultry flowered dress and done-up hair (which she later shook out after changing into a ratty pair of jeans and a T-shirt—onstage no less!), Bernhard channeled her inner soul diva and recreated the twisted hybrid of standup and cabaret that she’s come to perfect over the years. Though some fans may long for the catty gossiper who once had the gall and gumption to rake both the Village Voice’s Laurie Stone and Tom Cruise over the coals in shows past, Everything Bad and Beautiful demonstrated that—even if she’s lost a bit of her cynic’s edge—Bernhard still knows how to keep audiences on their toes while waiting to see if she’ll deliver. And she does. True, she might be a bit hesitant in bringing in da noise, but it’s clearly evident that our Sandy is still ever-ready to bring in da funk.—Ken Knox

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Porn Stars and Spaghetti

So this is my La-La Life.

I'm sitting in my apartment waiting for the phone to ring on a Sunday night. The out-of-town porn star I've been having an on-and-off love affair with is in town again, and he's told me he wants to get together so we can hang out. I'm picturing a romantic dinner down at my favorite romantic restaurant on Melrose, the Bungalow Club, a pseudo-fancy eatery that has several semi-private bungalow-style booths that you can sit at. With candles and good weather, it's the perfect place for playing footsie under the table.

The problem is that it's nearly 8:30, and Mr. XXX hasn't called yet. He was to be shooting a scene earlier in the day, some threeway with two other guys whose pictures he hadn't seen yet but who had specifically requested him as their scene partner. I can't imagine the scene having gone past three or four hours to shoot; after all, Chi Chi LaRue is directing, and she's pretty damn efficient when it comes to sex. But here it is, going on 9pm, and no Mr. XXX. It's not unlike him, though. Two years ago, when we first started hanging out, he stood me up on our second date because, as he later explained, he had told his boyfriend back home about meeting me, and the boyfriend was not very happy that the porn star he was involved in an open relationship with had hooked up with a guy who wasn't paying him to have sex. Yeah, it didn't make much sense to me either. Then, a year later, when I was visting the east coast in order to attend my 15th year high school reunion, Mr. XXX and I were to have hooked up for the first time in about five or six months. Except he never returned any of my phone calls that time either. Apparently porn stars have some kind of deep-seated phobia of both phones and keeping their engagements.

Anyway, by 9:15, I realize that Mr. XXX is not going to call, and I'm not very happy about it. It's not like I'm just some random fan who wants to get into his pants. I mean, we've actually shared a very special bond together, apart from the weekend of wild, passionate sex we had in Palm Springs two years ago. Which, by the way, was pretty damn nice. It's true; porn stars do have better sex.

As I realize that I've been stood up by Mr. XXX for the third time, I'm feeling pretty low. That's it, I tell myself. This is the straw breaking this camel's proverbial back. I'm not putting up with this kind of treatment any more. I deserve better.

Besides, I remind myself as I curl up on the couch with a pint of Hagen-Daaz ice cream, the latest episode of Gilmore Girls and my cat Masha, I'm an entertainment journalist covering the porn business. I can always say bad things about him in print if I want to.

I smile as I tell myself that it's times like these that it's good to be someone in a position of influence.

* * *

"I need comfort food!" I declare to my best buddy Mike the next evening. "I need to drown my sorrows in food that I know is not good for my girlish figure."

Mike knows what I'm talking about. Having recently not been able to find work in Hollywood, he has been dragging me to various fast food restaurants of his choice in order to comfort his broke-ass soul. Just last week I was forced to go online and research restuarants that served fish and chips because, for some bizarre reason that only Jacques Cousteau and his minions know for sure, there are no Arthur Treachers or Long John Silver's chains located in the city of L.A. or its immediate surroundings. When we finally found such a place -- H. Salt Fish and Chips in Studio City -- it is the kind of tiny dive on the corner that serves deep fried amalgamations of fish, shrimp and hush puppies, with so much batter on them that you can smell the eventual heartattack from Arizona. After finishing off my "Triple Catch" (which consisted of three prawns of "shrimp," a fillet of some kind of sea urchin and fries), Mike finished off the last hush puppy and said, "Thanks for bringing me here, Ken. You're a true friend."

So now it's my turn to drag Mike somewhere that's good for the soul but bad for the waistline, and I choose the Old Spaghetti Factory on Sunset Boulevard. Not that it's the unhealthiest place I can think of or anything, but because eating carbs in this town is comparable to giving up names of Communists during the McCarthy hearings -- just so wrong -- and the idea of rebelling against such body-conscious fascism is always an exercise in fun for me.

When I tell Mike about Mr. XXX standing me up the night before, he is his characteristically droll self. "Maybe you simultaneously disgust him and turn him on," he offers, then laughing hysterically at this display of unsentimentality as our server sets a plate of bruschetta down in front of us.

"Yes, that must be it," I deadpan, wondering again why I bother telling my troubles to the friend I've nicknamed The Ice Queen. "I'm just bummed that he didn't even call to say he couldn't make it. Like my time didn't matter to him. Like I didn't matter."

"Yeah, but he's a porn star. They're supposed to be flakes. If they weren't, then self-righteous, less attractive guys like you and me wouldn't have anyone to complain about, right?"

"Oh, Mike. You know how to say just the right things to mend a broken heart."

"I try, girl. I try." Then he reaches for the last piece of bruschetta, but suddenly pulls his hand back. "You can have it," he offers, apparently as an act of kindness in my moment of need. "Maybe getting fat will take your mind off porn stars. Then you can obsess over something else instead."

It's not exactly the gesture of compassion I was looking for, but it'll do.

And this, my friends, is my La-La Life.

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