(Performance Review) Sandra Bernhard at Club Helsinki Hudson, Aug 4, 2012

Sandra Bernhard at Club Helsinki Hudson (photo Seth Rogovoy)

Club Helsinki Hudson
Sandra Bernhard
Saturday, August 4, 2012

Review by Seth Rogovoy

(HUDSON, N.Y.) – Sandra Bernhard demonstrated that she is still at the top of her game as a comedian, singer, actress and political commentator in a generous, nearly two-hour performance at Club Helsinki Hudson on Saturday night.

While Bernhard was apparently, judging from her reference to notes on a music stand, trying out new material on the sold-out crowd, hardly a comment or joke fell flat in the house. Instead, Bernhard held the audience in rapt attention as her commentary veered from fashion to pop culture to politics to food to British royalty to Sandra Bernhard and then some.

“The very idea of Chick-Fil-A is enough to make me retch,” said Bernhard, showing how sometimes the most obvious observations are the easiest to overlook, in referencing last week’s controversy over the fast-food chain’s handling of gay marriage.

“It’s nice to be in farmland,” Bernhard observed of her jaunt out of New York City to Columbia County, “but hip, organic farmland,” contrasting the prevailing ethos of the region with the industrial agriculture heartland of America, where religious believers (as she typecast, perhaps correctly, the inhabitants of the red states) are experiencing Biblical-style drought. Does it make them wonder how God really feels about them, she wondered.

Bernhard is an acute observer of contemporary politics and social mores and a knowing performer. Her act was peppered with just enough self-reference to satisfy those who came wanting to catch a glimpse of one of the most enduring comic celebrities of the last quarter century (she talked about or alluded to her role in the film King of Comedy; her personal life; her sexuality; and her friendships with other celebrities, including what seemed to be a dig at her onetime friend and possible lover, Madonna), but mostly Bernhard cast her attention outward, demonstrating herself to be an acute and caring social commentator and critic, whether addressing the outrageous behavior of Monsanto or the hypocrisy of the industrial organic movement as represented by Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

Sandra Bernhard in full diva mode at Club Helsinki Hudson (photo Seth Rogovoy)

Bernhard peppered her act with a few songs, accompanied by a keyboardist, favoring outrageously lush, over-the-top romantic ballads, including Neil Sedaka’s “Laughter in the Rain,” “Before the Parade Passes By” from Hello, Dolly, and “Eres Tu,” the 1974 hit song by Mocedades, which many, including yours truly, probably had gladly forgotten and could have lived out our lives never having been reminded of, but in Bernhard’s hands, and with her surprisingly straight delivery (this sort of material doesn’t need to be camped up), rocked the room. Bernhard boasted a huge, colorful voice, and she easily could have enjoyed the successful career in musical theater that was her first wish before she got snared by the comedy thing.

While Bernhard scored with jokes about pink slime and organic dry cleaners and the various uses for vinegar, her show may have peaked during its most spontaneous and real moment, when she had to deal directly with a tableful of hecklers shouting something about her sexuality. After facing them down, Bernhard went off on an improvised rant about the human condition that got to the heart of the matter: “everyone’s a mess and we all die.”

That’s what it all comes down to, she said, by which time she had earned our appreciation and ardent attention, as well as our respect. Bernhard, as it turns out, is no mere comedian, but a philosopher whose medium happens to be stand-up comedy. We left enlightened and encouraged to live in a world where there are Sandra Bernhards who can entertain us while trying to make sense of all this mess.



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