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A CurtainUp Review
Rebel Without a Pause

by Les Gutman
Is there enough crime tape for a crime like this?

(Photo: Robin Holland)
If you aspire to friendship with Reno, the comedian turned downtown performance artist turned HBO/Bravo celebrity whose new show has been a hit at La MaMa's new "club" space, the first thing you need to learn is not to call her before 1 P.M. Unless it is really an emergency.

On the morning of September 11, Reno's sleep was interrupted by the sound of the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center. Assuming she was dreaming, she fell back asleep until she heard the incredulous voice of a friend on her answering machine. She got up, joined her neighbors on the street and watched the remainder of the tragedy unfold in disbelief. (Being a thorough chronicler at heart, she also kept her eye on her neighbors.) That was before she became a "nouvelle refugee from Tribecastan".

Over the course of her hour-long monologue, Reno traverses the usual reactions of most New Yorkers to the events of that day. The piece resonates, of course, when she talks about the horrific bedlam, the rivers of humanity running uptown, the yellow police tape, the National Guardsmen on "our" streets and the sinking feeling so many of us get every time we look at that airspace in the tip of Manhattan, expecting each time confirmation we were just having a bad dream. But Reno achieves more still (at least for those of us who are unaccustomed to knee-jerk pangs of patriotism and revenge) when she focuses trenchantly on what this tragedy has made us into. "Am I going to stay like this?" she wonders.

The "this" is, as an example, someone who now feels something when she hears God Bless America. For Reno, who like many in her La MaMa audience, has never thought of flag-waving as a particular virtue; it is terra incognita. She has always had the suspicion that, for many people affected by the song, the unspoken corollary is "Fuck Everywhere Else".

Reno is largely preaching to the choir at La MaMa. Most of us are not attacking Islamic shopkeepers, calling for bombing Afganistan back to the Stone Age or urging the curtailment of civil liberties. We are not accustomed to war-mongering, and understand what she means when she questions to official name of our mission in Afganistan: "Enduring Freedom". (The first definition of "endure," she reminds us, is as a verb meaning to bear, under painful, difficult circumstances.) But her application of comedy to tragedy is masterful, and (in the tradition of Mort Sahl, whose recent anemic performance at the nearby Public Theater makes it clear we need a new generation of lefty comedic lobbyists), she knows how to exploit her most potent weapon: irony. Whither our righteous indignation?

It took us a while, but we finally caught up with this hit of La MaMa's season, which has been extended again through mid-January. (The show is currently performed in La Mama's club space, but is moving downstairs to the First Floor theater.) Although she's made brief appearances at Dixon Place and perhaps elsewhere in the last several years, Reno's last significant theatrical performance, Reno Finds Her Mind, was in 1998. It's great having her back at "home".

Rebel Without a Pause
Written and performed by Reno

Running Time: 1 hour including no intermission
La MaMa E.T.C., 74A East 4th Street (2 Av/Bowery)
Telephone (212) 475 - 7710
La MaMa website: Opening October 4, 2001, closing extended to January 13, 2002
MON 12/31 @8, then THURS - SUN @8; $15; also performed Sundays @5:30 at Marion's Restaurant, 354 Bowery (212) 475 - 7621
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 12/17/01 performance

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