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‘Without You I’m Nothing,’ Starring Sandra Bernhard, Opens Off- Broadway

April 1, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ Sandra Bernhard is a pouty priestess of pop culture, wickedly dissecting life and what passes for art and artifice at the end of the 1980s.

In her show, ″Without You I’m Nothing,″ which opened Thursday at off- Broadway’s Orpheum Theater, Bernhard slouches and scowls through 90 minutes of brash comedy and rock music that is not only off-the-wall but occasionally beyond it.

This outrageous woman, all lips, legs and long arms, is best known to late- night TV watchers for harassing David Letterman. She’s also remembered as the actress who stole ″King of Comedy,″ Martin Scorsese’s movie about a TV talk show host, from Robert DeNiro and Jerry Lewis.

With her new theater performance piece, Bernard offers a string of unconventional, often very funny, observations about show business and the people who are consumed by it.

It’s a peculiar subculture which she celebrates and puts down at the same time. But then, as Bernhard explains to the audience, her father was a proctologist and her mother an abstract artist, so that’s just how she views the world.

She seems to rap about anything that comes into her head, and the evening wanders from monologue to monologue. The performer, dressed in black pants and a denim jacket, is surrounded on stage by a small rock band. Between conversations, Bernhard breaks into song, much of it surprisingly effective. Her repertoire ranges from such golden oldies as ″The Lion Sleeps Tonight″ to material she wrote herself.

Bernard’s targets in this show, which she co-authored with director John Boskovich, range from Broadway to cabaret to rock ‘n’ roll icons to fashion to her own childhood back in Flint, Mich., and later Scottsdale, Ariz.

She tweaks the noses of many show biz personalities, some more famous than others. Not many comedians would open their show with a parody of Andrea Marcovicci, a cabaret artist who is certainly not a household name in Middle America.

Bernard also takes on more familiar performers - Joni Mitchell comes in for a hilarious drubbing, for example - and kayoes such diverse cultural phenomenon as Esprit, the selling of fashion as affectation, and Vanity Fair, ″the least pretentious magazine in America.″

The material grows more serious, too. There’s a wonderful sequence where Bernhard fantasizes about being friends with Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac and celebrates the women of rock ‘n’ roll.

The actress is not on everybody’s wavelength. Bernhard doesn’t travel in a straight line. She swoons, swerves, backtracks and then races ahead at 100 mph. But it’s fun trying to keep up with her with her more fanciful observations. ″Without You I’m Nothing″ makes for a wild night ride of off- beat humor.

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