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


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