Volume 75, Number 49 | April 26 - May 2 2006

Photo by Paul Kolnik

Backed by The Rebellious Jezebels, Sandra Bernhard’s singing is stronger and better than ever in “Everything Bad & Beautiful.”

Sandra Bernhard, rebellious as ever

By Jerry Tallmer

The Vanity Fair magazine of years ago had a monthly spot called “Impossible Interviews” in which a Covarrubias caricature would throw together in close proximity, oh, say, Albert Einstein and Mae West.

Sandra Bernhard is perhaps a bit too young to remember that feature (though she does have a more recent Vanity Fair connection), but in performance she will now and again brilliantly recreate — i.e., invent — an Impossible Encounter between, say, a breathless Jacqueline Kennedy and a breathy Marilyn Monroe (that was last time around) or (this time around) Condoleeza Rice and Rosa Parks at the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr., was gunned down.

Condoleeza Rice does not come off well: “Wake up, Condoleeza!” But in “Everything Bad & Beautiful,” Ms. Bernhard’s current show at the Daryl Roth Theater on East 15th Street, Condi comes off far better than George W. or Laura Bush (“bitch diva! … Pat Nixon had more on the ball”) or the Bush daughters (no abortions for them) or, guess who, John Kerry.

Has Sandra Bernhard ever met Condoleeza Rice?

“No,” she says sharply over a midday thirst-quencher in a Greenwich Village boite some blocks south of her domicile in Chelsea. Ever met Rosa Parks? “Nooo,” she says, gently, soothingly. “It’s funny. Nobody talked about Rosa Parks for years. Then she died. And that had resonance.”

Did meet John Kerry once, so to speak. Tells it in the show, and tells it now again.

“It was at the Admirals’ Club in the old terminal at JFK. A Zelig moment. I was just standing there, nobody was paying the least attention, and there Kerry was, on the phone, either talking to or leaving word for Jesse Jackson, inquiring about the vote count in Ohio.”

She went to introduce herself. Kerry coldly brushed her off with “I’m busy.” Two even terser words — Bernhard’s — follow from the stage of the Daryl Roth, and here, by daylight, she adds: “He was totally rude, dismissive, boorish. He wasn’t my candidate, anyway. Didn’t do us any favors. Weak as a cat.” Pause. “A kitten. Wobbly at best … Howard Dean was the only one with any balls.”

Though Bernhard, rebellious as ever, says: “I can’t stand sitting in theater, it drives me insane,” and has time for movies “only on television … or in airplanes,” she did appropriate from Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” the name Cicely that graces Bernhard’s daughter born July 4, 1998, nine or so months after the flamethrowing actress/singer/faghag/friend of the famous said to herself one fine day: “Enough! Get real.”

Cicely, who at age 2 gave a unique twist to some of her mother’s less printable words, now at 71/2 chastises her mother with: “That’s not necessary” whenever her mother uses extreme language. Obligatory periodic journalistic question, à la Page Six: Might we at this remove know who is Cicely’s father?

A long and expressive shrug. May one say, a Jewish shrug. “Everybody knows what they need to know,” says Cicely’s mother. That and no more. “When a kid’s involved, all bets are off.”

But not far enough off to keep mama from saying that Cicely’s “a wonderful free spirit, passionate, compassionate, into music and art, not interested in dolls, and yes, she does look like me, but with bright red, red hair.”

And yes, it’s true that one of Cicely’s nannies ran up a $4,000 telephone bill yakking with girlfriends in Belize.

And yes, it’s true that nowadays homemaker Sandra Bernhard shops at Whole Foods and Chelsea Market, noshes at Moonstruck, buys light bulbs at the local hardware store, and is back home at 2 p.m. for want of anything else to do.

At home, when the day’s work is over, there is also Sara Switzer, Vanity Fair PR executive and writer, native of St. Louis, “cold and WASP-y and I love it,” Bernhard has said from the stage, between pulsing, passionate, hard-driving songs, and costume changes before our eyes. Off with dress, on with jeans. Gorgeous form-fitting dress, tight jeans. The lady has a body to be proud of, and is.

“A really forbidding person,” Ms. Bernhard has further said of Ms. Switzer. “Hands me my ass on a daily basis … We fight over everything.” Just like a marriage. They’d first met by accident, on the street, after Ms. Switzer, then working for Harper’s Bazaar, asked Ms. Bernhard to write a piece on the millennium. “A very tired subject. She was embarrassed to ask me. And they never ran it.”

Anything more to be said about Sara Switzer?

“This is as far as I can go.” And no, Sandra Bernhard has no original thoughts about l’affaire Page Six. “I don’t have much interaction with that scene — fortunately.”

She has always wanted first and foremost to be a singer, and now, backed by musical director LaFrae Sci on drums, Rich Campbell on keyboard, moptopped Eric Hauptman on guitar, Mark Vanderpoel on bass, and backup singer Stephanie Lippman, Sandra Bernhard’s voice is stronger and better than ever. One didn’t even, for a change, mind the volume.

Born June 6, 1955, in Flint, Michigan, younger sister of three brothers, Bernhard has always expressed “unconditional love of my mom,” Jeanette LaZebnick Bernhard of Phoenix, Arizona, long divorced from Sandra’s father [a retired proctologist].

Have you made it up with your father since we last talked a couple of years ago?

“I did, I did. And it’s fallen apart again.” Pause. “I don’t think he’s enough involved in my daughter’s life.” Pause. “A right-wing fanatic.”

A right-wing Jewish fanatic?

“That too. One of my brothers told me that he” — their father — “has two guns. Can you imagine a Jew with two guns?”

Religion is in fact what’s messing up the world, she feels. Religion — “Christian, Muslim, to some extent Jewish, as an escape from thinking.” You are never going to catch Sandra Bernhard not thinking.

SANDRA BERNHARD: Everything Bad & Beautiful. Daryl Roth Theater, 101 East 15th Street, (212) 539-6200.

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