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Review: Sandra Bernhard, loved for being herself

The sly, glamorous, rock 'n' roll social commenter is back at REDCAT with 'Sandrology,' whipping up the crowd with her observations, apropos of nothing.

May 31, 2012|By Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times Theater Critic
  • Sandra Bernhard performs at REDCAT.
Sandra Bernhard performs at REDCAT. (Steven Gunther )

No one ever called Sandra Bernhard a simple girl at heart, and her latest show, "Sandrology," which opened Wednesday at REDCAT, is a kind of loosely constructed seminar on her glamorously defiant complexity.

Looking as stylish as ever in a black "off-the-rack" designer cocktail dress with deep pockets that prompt all kinds of apocalyptic scenarios of how they might one day come in handy, she has come back to Los Angeles to "bring the realness."

And the taunting redhead whose résumé includes stints as Bravo TV's "pop culture anthropologist" doesn't pull any punches in her survey of the celebrity world, where not even those who open doors for her are safe from her skewering.

No longer an L.A. resident since she sold her house in the Valley and no great devotee of the California cult known as Trader Joe's, this Whole Foods organic-only New York-based mama wasn't planning to return so soon to the stage, where she had such a success last summer with "Sandra Bernhard: I Love Being Me, Don't You?"

But the REDCAT folks, she reports, asked her to "throw together" another show, and she was happy to oblige her hard-core fans, who naturally just want to spend more time in her relentlessly ironic company and won't really care that her latest piece is just a scattershot compilation of riffs and musical experiments.

A work-in-progress by Bernhard is indeed preferable to no performance by her at all. Even when her vamping goes nowhere, she has a way of keeping her audience in her crooked orbit. It's a slightly surreal space, one that may leave you feeling at times as though you're tumbling down the snarkiest of blog holes.

The targets of her mischievous curiosity include Bristol Palin, Tyra Banks, Cindy Crawford andLady Gaga, the last of whom inspires Bernhard's best bit of musical parody. Backed by a band, she does an extended take on "The Edge of Glory," reinterpreting the song every which way and throwing into relief the hilarious monotony of its lyrics.

Bernhard struggled with her voice throughout much of the show. Her rendition of "Before the Parade Passes By" from "Hello, Dolly!," a song she was provoked to do by perky Kristin Chenoweth after guest starring on the TV series "GCB," left her gasping for water.

But pop has always been her métier, and she opened with a captivatingly hip version of "Laughter in the Rain" and was later joined onstage byREO Speedwagon'sKevin Cronin for a duet of "Can't Fight This Feeling" that she robustly powered through. A teasing cover of "Sex Shooter," performed in a fey hat, racy stockings and not much else, allowed her to end on a playful dominatrix note.

The different segments of "Sandrology" are held together largely by non sequiturs. "Who knew Michele Bachmann and I had so much in common?" she asks apropos of nothing. Turns out they were both in Israel way back when, a coincidence that Bernhard chalks up to Bachmann doing "early reconnaissance work for the Rapture."

Jumping from subject to subject (her daughter's cellphone use, pink slime, celebrity fragrances), Bernhard may not have figured out how to artistically connect her material, but her social critique is reliably on the money. She's still the urban-chic canary in the pop cultural coal mine, and hearing her sound her caustic alarms remains a giddy pleasure.

charles.mcnulty@latimes.com

'Sandrology'

Where: REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., L.A.

When: Contact theater for schedule. Ends June 10.

Tickets: $50 to $55

Information: (213) 237-2800 or http://www.redcat.org

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

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