Sandra Bernhard in Everything Bad & Beautiful
(Photo © Paul Kolnik)
Sandra Bernhard in Everything Bad & Beautiful
(Photo © Paul Kolnik)
Shortly after she strides onstage in a dress that resembles a floor-length lei, Sandra Bernhard describes her new show Sandra Bernhard: Everything Bad & Beautiful as "theater by the seat of your pants." Yes, she's at the Daryl Roth Theatre, performing on a David Swayze set that calls to mind a Moroccan bordello; but Bernhard is not wearing pants, and what she's presenting here is not theater. With a five-person rock band dubbed The Rebellious Jezebels striking up raucously at regular intervals, Bernhard's doing a glorified club act.

She starts things off by launching into Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful." It's a persuasive rendition, and not only because Bernhard has long-since proved that she's a reputable rock singer; the number really gets to you because she delivers the fervent lyrics with intensifying passion. Along with Barbra Streisand, Sandra Bernhard has redefined the concept of beauty for a couple of generations -- so much so that women boasting the hallmarks of conventional beauty, from Jessica Simpson to Jennifer Aniston, have been reduced to being merely pretty.

Bernhard is a looker from top to toe, as she makes clear when she does the first of two costume changes mid-show. Facing the audience, she strips off the flowery get-up to reveal Victoria's Secret-like skivvies -- and her whistle-worthy physique -- before changing into a T-shirt and jeans. If she were to execute this seductive routine on a highway, trucks would collide. (The third and final outfit she dons is a shiny leopard-print slip of a dress.)

She may look a little wild, but Bernhard's comments and observations in this show are remarkably tame. True, she throws in as many obscenities as there are leopard spots on the designer frock, but she doesn't really say much -- not much that sticks with you, anyway. Maybe motherhood has mellowed her, along with the fact that she's in a contented relationship with her partner, whom she also discusses.

Every once in a while, she launches a zinger or fires a thought-provoking remark. Bernhard gets momentarily nasty about Lynne Cheney and has a thing or two to say about the proper way to support American troops in Iraq. She warbles "Like a Rolling Stone" and recounts a phone conversation that she had with Bob Dylan. Vincent Van Gogh crosses her mind, maybe because that flowery dress looks as if it might have been lifted from one of his canvasses, and she notes that his art became greater the more his depression deepened. How creative, she muses, would or wouldn't a modern-day Van Gogh be if he were prescribed Zoloft or Paxil?

Oddly enough, Bernhard seems most passionate when talking about golf, which she says she hates. At the performance I attended, she also became fired up when someone in the audience goaded her with a remark about the recent raids on a series of Manhattan gay bars for alleged on-site sale of illegal substances. Bernhard responded with a diatribe against drug use that culminated with the declaration, "I am amped up on my own fucking fuel!" Perhaps the point was that the mother of a young daughter was not about to condone or encourage illegal drug use. But I wonder if the usually rampaging Bernhard -- who even keeps the down-on-her-haunches moves to a minimum in this show -- might herself be subdued by such legal drugs as the aforementioned Zoloft or Paxil. Everything Bad & Beautiful may be beautiful, but bad it isn't. In fact, it's not even especially naughty.