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Joan Rivers: Broke and Alone … in L.A.

This bare-bones evening of comical diatribe could give credence to the show's title that this venerable queen of insults is indeed broke and alone in L.A. After brief, underwhelming opening-act turns by singer/comedian Henry Phillips and the a capella doo-wop quartet Jondo, Joan Rivers immediately takes umbrage at the show's lack of production values by walking to the extremities of the stage and disappearing into the shadows on either side.

This bare-bones evening of comical diatribe could give credence to the show’s title that this venerable queen of insults is indeed broke and alone in L.A. After brief, underwhelming opening-act turns by singer/comedian Henry Phillips and the a capella doo-wop quartet Jondo, Joan Rivers immediately takes umbrage at the show’s lack of production values by walking to the extremities of the stage and disappearing into the shadows on either side. “You notice the follow spot,” she asks? “There is none,” she shouts, projecting the full weight of her well-honed sense of indignity. Noting that she has recently played a lot of less-than-stellar venues around the country, she states, “I am the Willy Loman of comics.”

Rivers wastes no time in running rampant over a broad range of victims, declaring, “I don’t do jokes, I do concepts.” She concentrates much of her energies on an inequity of life that has her performing “in this ugly, disgusting theater, while Monica Lewinsky has a special on ABC.” Given how Lewinsky rose to prominence as a celebrity, Rivers concludes the last thing a woman needs to succeed is brains and talent. She then proceeds to take shots at such celebs as Pamela Anderson and Anna Nicole Smith. She also levels criticism at her daughter for turning down an opportunity to make a lot of money posing for Playboy. She determinedly affirms that we live in a “take the money and run” world.

Rivers enjoys getting on a thematic riff and pummeling it into oblivion. During her hour-plus, she levels barbs at such disparate subjects as marriage, sex, old people, the Iraqi war, terrorists, travel and whatever else is displeasing her. She masterfully plays her audience, even to the point of making a couple of audience members partners in her jaundiced commentaries whether they want to be or not.

In conversing with one man sitting in the front row, she discovers his parents are dead and were cremated. She informs him that she dutifully had her mother-in-law cremated despite the fact that the ungrateful old lady kept yelling “It’s hot.” She also confides that her husband requested that she visit him every day when he died. She deadpans, “I had his ashes spread over Neiman Marcus.”

Rivers spends a lot of the show luxuriating over the wonders of cosmetic surgery, her own and everybody else’s. Unabashedly chronicling her many adventures under the knife, she admits it must be confusing when she visits her grandchildren: “They call me Nanna New Face.” One hilarious anecdote relates the time she, Bette Midler and several other high-profile women attended a birthday party for a celebrity surgeon known for his botox treatments: It was pitiful because no one could help the doc blow out the candles on his cake.

Despite Rivers’ brilliance at skewering almost anything under the sun, there is an aura of awkward shabbiness that permeates this limited-run showcase. During his 20-minute set, understated singer/satirist Phillips plays an out-of-tune acoustic guitar. The single onstage mike and poor sound system are woefully inadequate to project the harmonies of Jondo (Vincent Coulson, Cary Nash, Bejay Watson, Bryant Woodert) who were showcased to greater effect when performing on the patio of the L.A. Music Center.

Joan Rivers: Broke and Alone ... in L.A.

Canon Theater, Beverly Hills280 seats;$50 top

Production: Clear Channel Entertainment and Canon Theatricals present a comedy concert in one act, written and performed by Joan Rivers. With Henry Phillips and Jondo. Opened and reviewed April 23, 2003; closed April 26. Running time, 90 MIN.

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