I went to see Sandra Bernhard''s new show, or show in progress last night at the Silent Movie theatre here in LA. It was a promising start, especially with the free martinis on the back patio for the entire audience before and after the show; after the show we were invited to mingle with Sandra on the patio.
Sandra has always been a navel gazer, and slightly unfocused in the structure of her shows. She can be brilliant in a focused show, as in Without You I'm Nothing, or her Broadway venture, which was a blast. But I have seen her several times, and this seems to be one of those times, when she is just searching to see what works.
One of the things I have always loved about her is that she is constantly changing her shows, looking for what works and what doesn't, and ranting on about life. She has a very strong presence. There are few people that could read a list of Nail Salons (which I have seen her do) or a list of vodka and jean brands (as she did last night), and remain riveting. And her best stuff makes us see through ourselves and think, how ridiculous--why d0 we need so many brands of jeans? And somehow, through her navel, we look and see ourselves.
Unfortunately, last night her navel was somewhat opaque. And though entertaining, the whole show seemed to be fuzzy. To be fair, I saw her in Long Beach a few weeks before the election when she was coming up with some of this material. Then, her anger and the spur of the moment riffing of it carried her through. This time, it felt somewhat canned.
There are still her wonderful insights, funny bits, great delivery. But this night was, dare I say it, self-congratulatory. There was an imagined conversation between Rosa Parks and Condoleeza Rice which was so mean it was uncomfortable. And followed by her introducing her band saying "how cool am I? I have two black chicks in my band!" it was downright self-indulgent. Yes, Sandra, you love black people--we have heard this over and over, but the older you get the more it sounds like the self-congratulation of a white Jew. And that's pointless. I see the wanting to break down barriers of race, and talk about the difficulties we have with it in our country. But you're not black. At least last night, unlike in Long Beach, she seemed to have dropped the adjective "niggerish" which she was using with abandon.
The other funny thing is her talking about how she never flaunted she was pregnant, or made big deal of it, like so many do nowadays. Puh-lease. She did a Broadway show in a negligee eight months pregnant. So the more she is skewering others, the more she seems to be skewering herself. She spoke less about celebrity this time, though did point out the ridiculous of Madonna giving Britney a sacred Kabaalistic text. And then went on a rant about how you have to find spirituality where you can, etc. Where's the compassion then, Sandra--I know it's there somewhere. To add to the level of irony is that the walls of the silent movie theater are festooned with giant portraits of silent movie stars. The biggest celebrities of their day, they are now, mostly, forgotten.
There was a feel to this show that Sandra just has a bunch of mouths to feed and had to go back out on the road. And therefore I didn't see much of a reason for it. But, I would still like to see her failures than most successes. She seems to throw back to that time in the 70s and 80s when people were searching for something with performance--themselves, ourselves. They may not find it, but the live-ness of it is always wonderful. And I will go see her again, perhaps even in this run. There are always touches of brilliance, and wonderful insights.
As usual, the lack of vocal prowess is made up for in confidence. Love her, but she's no rock singer. What she did have, though, was Lily Hadyn, a stunning electric violinist. When Sandra went off stage at the end after an extended Prince medley, her musicians kept playing. One by one they left the stage. The last on was Lily Haydn. And it was beyond a thrill to sit in that audience, feeling the heights she was taking us to with the way she played. And how everyone was right there with her. When it's bad, violin is awful, but when it's great, like last night, it soars. She brought us to places I wish the rest of the show had, and only in a couple of minutes. I know Sandra has it in her, but I am so glad to have heard Lily Haydn play. A rare talent.