Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Funny Lady

August 19, 2011

Sandra Bernhard

Sandra Bernhard returned to Los Angeles last week with her latest show, I Love Being Me, Don’t You?, and what struck me most about it, besides being some of her best live work in years, is how profoundly complex her routines have become. Her shows are always riotously funny and razor sharp. That is nothing new. The format hasn’t changed much either. She has a unique blend of comic one liners, narrative storytelling, and musical performance that is uniquely her own. She was again accompanied by a band and displayed serious musical chops opening the show with Bobby Womack’s Across 110th Street and closing with a medley of “Lady” songs. She weaved in and out of stories as outlandish and farcical as they were pointedly relevant. There was plenty of the skewering of (our) celebrity culture that Kathy Griffin (whom I love dearly as well) would give up her first-born to pull off with this much flair. Irony, and I don’t mean the Alanis Morissette kind, abounds, and Bernhard’s arch vocal mastery of a phrase drives the whole set.

What was different to my ear was the breadth and depth of her web of allusions. Bernhard never shies away from complex cultural references, but I Love Being Me, Don’t You?, may reach farther than she has previously in terms of what she expects the audience to get from politics of the early 1970s through wannabe celebrities in the pages of today’s lesser respected tabloids. There is a risk that some in the audience is left behind, and to my ear more than a few were in Thursday’s show. The double edged commentary of her performance of Mocedades' Eres Tú was brilliantly oblique. But the way in which these references build in to a greater agenda is remarkable. Bernhard has a revolutionary streak despite all of her homebody protestations, and her calls for progressive defiance wrapped in a smile and a knowing disco allusion is much more than it seems on the surface. At other moments, there are these amazing tonal shifts infused with nostalgia, sorrow or perhaps anger that rivals the kind of narrative tricks Garrison Keillor is known for. The centerpiece of the current show is an extended monologue about her being stood up by a stoned friend for a concert and becomes a meditation on loss and the political and cultural struggles of our own times. All of this is wrapped in a slick musical pastiche of Cat Stevens’ “Sad Lisa”, Scott McKenie’s “San Francisco”, and Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)”. The piece is sublime in the way it transverses an emotional landscape. It’s this ability to produce laughs and tears in such close juxtaposition that makes Bernhard one of the greats. The shows continue at REDCAT downtown through the weekend, but at this point tickets are mostly available via returns so count yourself lucky to see the performance if you’ve got them already.



There's a typo so Freudian slip good you might just want to leave it: "an extended monologue about her being stood up by a stoned friend for a concert and becomes a medication on loss..."
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