Reno: Rebel Social Critic. She’s Funny Too

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By GAETANA CALDWELL-SMITH

REBEL WITHOUT A PAUSE.

Written and performed by Reno. June 18-23, BRAVA Center for the Arts, San Francisco.

Comic monologist Reno opened her first showing on the West Coast of “Rebel Without a Pause” at BRAVA Theater Center on June 18 for a six-day run. Reno has the physicality of Harpo Marx, the facial expressions and double-takes of Eve Arden, and the delivery of Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce.

As the performance began, Reno sat at a small table, listening to a voice-mail message from a friend, “We are under attack here in Manhattan.” She had been asleep, she said, as she stood up, when the attacks on the World Trade Centers occurred. The sound woke her for a moment, then she fell back to sleep, saying to herself, “Suicide bombers.”

She ascribed her first thought on not so much prescience but awareness of how a lot of the rest of the world sees America, especially since the previous attack on one of the towers in 1993. Reno joked that she must be on the terrorists’ mailing list (no doubt because of her radical views) and wondered why they didn’t call her and clue her in on what was going on.

It is this radical stance concerning the events on and subsequent to 9-11 that is quickly gaining Reno nationwide recognition. “Rebel” has been nominated for a Drama Desk Award and is currently being filmed.

Reno had been up all the night before 9-11, working on a new show about the gentrification of TriBeCa (a district in Lower Manhattan) and the mayoral race. After the attack, she scrapped that material and immediately began a writing of the events leading up to, including, and post 9-11.

She first performed “Rebel” in an Off-Broadway theater as early as Oct. 4, despite the self-imposed shut-down of commentary by most other entertainers. Leno, Letterman, O’Brien, et al were tiptoeing around for weeks, afraid of being disrespectful to the U.S. and showing a lack of feeling and patriotism. After her New York performance, people thanked her for the cathartic effects her show had on them.

Her friends say she’s depressed and angry about what’s been going on since the day of the attack. But she contended that you can’t be angry and depressed at the same time; she proved it by trying to act it out, which was hilarious.

Yes, she is angry. Angry about a lot of things. She is angry that there are Christian fundamentalists in the administration, angry at schools that teach “creation-science” as an alternative to evolution, to name two. “Creation-science: those two words are like trying to get two magnets to stick together when their nature is to repel,” she said. “It can’t be done.”

As for the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan, she asked, “Wasn’t bombing that country and dropping humanitarian aid at the same time like eating while you’re sitting on the toilet?” She talked about the packets of humanitarian aid being the same bright yellow as some of the bombs. She did a take on Afghans picking them up, not knowing the difference, of course, and … BOOM!.

Reno lapsed into a lecture mode when she spoke of the “rule of law” and blamed Ashcroft for using the “war on terrorism” as an excuse to screw up the Bill of Rights. She believes Ashcroft and the administration whipped up the so-called Patriot Act months before Sept. 11.

She then unleashed her comedic talent on our “appointed” president and his recent flubs, like not being able to get the words “State of the Union” out of his mouth in any understandable order; his wonder at discovering that Brazil has Black people too; and in Japan, reminding dignitaries that we enjoyed “150 years of peace” with that country, while Condoleeza Rice fell all over herself to explain what Bush really meant.

“Unrehearsed, he’s like a drunk pretending to be sober.” Imagine, Reno said, pundits were calling Bush’s post Sept. 11 speech Churchillian. “I’m sure they said, ‘chinchillian.'”

Reno ended her performance in front of a huge American flag, which suddenly dropped and unfurled from the flies, with an announcement: John Walker Lindh’s father had come to see her show and liked it. She was moved by him, she said. She hoped that Lindh would get a fair trial and that his case would be a benchmark for other terrorist trials.

Reno’s show was energizing, entertaining, optimistic, and fall-out-of-your-chair funny. And, as New York Theatre Wire wrote: “Reno has mined all our thoughts … and is now feeding them back to us. And willingly, like some elixer guaranteed to cure us, we swallow them whole.”

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