It's hard to do justice to Sandra Bernhard, not least since the lady does such exquisitely poised justice to herself, let alone everything else that enters her purview. So it proves anew in this nonpareil artist's latest solo show, wherein REDCAT becomes Bernhard's personal salon to captivating effect.
After sailing on from backstage, svelte and chic in gunmetal sequins and elegantly unkempt hair, Bernhard holds the house in a rapturous death grip from her first "It's been too long!" onward. In tandem with her band—music director Carla Patullo on piano, Alex Stickels on drums, Mike Manning on guitar, and the awesome Jason Joseph doing backup vocals—Bernhard offers the strongest case yet for her angular brand of sophisticated humor.
Watching her riffle through the show notes on the music stand center stage, it seems that Bernhard hasn't aged as much as come to full fruition, like a vintage wine whose intoxicating properties become increasingly potent. The long-established blur between satire and sincerity in her singing has become its own absolute, whether she's sailing through an Isley Brothers cover or launching an unexpected Aretha Franklin wail, and her dry, wry critical eye is at its zenith.
Michele Bachmann, Iman, Jennifer Aniston, and Bristol Palin are only four of the targets who weave in and out of "Sandy's" reverie. As in recent work, tidbits about her girlfriend and daughter provide some of the richest human comedy, as do her recollections of her teen years in Arizona with the coolest outsiders in high school. Her take on junk mail and advertising supplements has a delicious, improvised feel—a hallmark of her intimate, archly loving style. And the late-inning salute to San Francisco in the '70s, complete with an electrifying version of Sylvester's "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)," is entirely worth the show.
It all ends much too soon, as she takes the stage after the band's driving jam on "Take Five," hair upswept, couture changed to black glitter catsuit under faux skirt, to tear into a medley of "Lady" songs with the riveting power of Diamanda Galás' long-lost cousin. Simply put, there's nobody on the planet quite like Sandra Bernhard. If this review reads like a love letter, that's because it is. Brava, Bernhard, bravissima.
Presented by and at REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A. Aug. 11-21. Thu.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (213) 237-2800 or www.redcat.org.