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Rebel Yell

Reno minces no words in discussing her show, Rebel Without a Pause, and the awful truths that inspired it.

By New York City

Reno
Reno
Reno--the woman, not the place--is a whirlwind of activity. Fifteen minutes late for an interview at her Tribeca apartment, she is immediately busy: giving orders to her assistant, Matt, moving an American flag from one part of the apartment to another, taking care of her dog. For this last activity, she enlists my help in subcutaneously injecting fluid into the animal. Eventually she sits down to discuss her show, Rebel Without a Pause, but she periodically jumps up to make tea or grab a notebook from another room.

The title of her show fits Reno to a T. Boundless energy is part of what makes her so exciting as a performer; meanwhile, she seems to believe utterly in everything she says. That kind of passion and conviction is electrifying in performance and no less so when one is simply sitting in the same room with her.

Rebel Without a Pause was first presented at the downtown venue La MaMa in a run that started on October 4, 2001, just a few weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The show chronicles Reno's own experiences of that day (she lives just a few blocks from Ground Zero) and also includes comments on the aftermath and the current political situation, all presented with Reno's particular brand of witty and irreverent humor. Rebel transferred to the Zipper Theatre in April, played a one-week engagement in San Francisco in June, and now returns to New York City as the first production in The Lion Theatre, part of the brand new Theatre Row Complex.

********************

THEATERMANIA: You began performances at La MaMa so soon after September 11. How were you able to process the events and build a show around them so quickly?

RENO: I was processing in front of people; that's what I was doing the whole time. I think that was the reason nobody was offended. After September 11, there was nothing else to talk about. We can never go back to being this monolithic separate state, although our leaders are certainly attempting to keep us that way, and it's a mistake. People laughed from the first day I did this show. I had a certain point of view and I happen, thank God, to be funny. You know, some people are athletic; I'm funny. What can I do?

TM: Do you work from an outline or do you have a script?

RENO: If there's a script at all, it's being transcribed from the first couple times I did the show. I didn't write a script beforehand; I talked off the top of my head. Things stuck and then they stuck some more. Then, when I moved uptown to the Zipper and we were going to have a broader audience, not just the .01 percent of hip New Yorkers at the show, I did make decisions that I wanted this section to be here and this section to be here.

TM: How is the show structured?

RENO: Eventually, it evolved into four sections. The first, which is probably more than a quarter of the show, is the witness section--what happened that day to the people that I was with, and what I saw. The next section starts to get into the immediate militarism following September 11. That's where I introduce the conflicts about how necessary it is to maintain the Bill of Rights in all manner of storms. Then I talk a little here and there about foreign relations and I also get to the man-who-is-not-supposed-to-be-President's presidency; that's usually a good 15 minutes of pure laughter. The last section is how we've got to change, and it's not that hard to change. I give a bunch of examples of ways in which I changed.

"These aren't my personal political beliefs.These are the truths."
"These aren't my personal political beliefs.
These are the truths."
TM: Obviously, you're very outspoken in your shows about your personal political beliefs...

RENO: These aren't my personal political beliefs. These are the truths. [laughs]

TM: Still, I assume that people of various political persuasions come to your shows. Do you ever have any negative reactions from them?

RENO: Not that I know of--except for once, at the Zipper. A man was sitting at the very far reaches of the theater opposite from the door. He had to walk through the entire theater and in front of me on the way out. Other people have come up to me afterwards--this has happened at least a dozen times--and they'll say, "I'm a registered Republican and everything you've said I agree with." The point is, my show is not polemical. My show is not party line rhetoric. A lot of people have said that it's just about common sense. I mean, there's been a real vacuum of criticism of what the hell we're doing.

TM: Because people are trying to be "patriotic."

RENO: Yes. Absolutely. There's this whole bogus and, in the long run, very destructive concept that you have to be unified. Well, you know, the Nazis were really beautifully unified, but they were unified in the wrong way. People in America feel like we're going to be able to get over our pain if, oh, we kill a million people. That doesn't happen, and people should know that by now. I'm not much of an adult; I cross the line into adulthood about once or twice a day. So, if I know that, then all these people who are masquerading as adults should know that.

TM: What other kinds of reactions do you get at your shows?

RENO John Walker Lindh's father came when I was in San Franciso. It was amazing. This particular night, I was talking about something I hadn't really been talking about much in the previous weeks in New York: the overkill, the exorbitant brutality with which many Americans and, certainly, the leadership responded to the events of September 11. Like how people treated this poor kid, John Lindh. So, afterwards, his father comes to my dressing room. I'm taking off my clothes and knock knock knock. Next thing you know, this skinny, tall, 45-year-old white guy was hugging me. He had tears in his eyes and shit. Then it comes back to me that I mentioned his son on stage. He says to me, "I'm so grateful that people are recognizing [the overkill]."

TM: That's amazing.

RENO: Another performance was attended by Marian Fontana; she was the wife of Dave Fontana, one of the firefighters from Park Slope. She started this organization called September 11 Widows and Victims' Families Association, and she came to opening night at the Zipper. There were plenty of times at La MaMa and at the Zipper where people came up to me afterwards with stories about their next door neighbor's son or their niece, that sort of thing. But this close a relation...she has a role in the recovery effort, with clean-up and survivors' benefits. I knew before I went on that she was out there, but I tried to put it out of my mind. Then, the minute the show was over that night, I called out: "And Marian Fontana's in the house!" I wasn't really metering what my brain was doing. That happens with me; I don't have many inhibitors. Maybe that's the reason I can do my work. So, it just came out of me, and I thought: "I can't believe I said that. I put her on the spot." Then I said, "So, what did you think of it?" Can you imagine? Opening night! She loved it, thank God.

"Who knew from day one if people were going to laugh? I didn't care."
"Who knew from day one if
people were going to laugh?
I didn't care."
TM: That seems to be a pretty common reaction, as evidenced by the success of the show.

RENO: There are scores and scores of people waiting for me after the show every night. I'm really very lucky that I've had the opportunity to contribute in a very direct way vis-a-vis September 11. When I presented myself at the site late that afternoon, September 11, they didn't see me that way; they didn't hand me a bucket or a pick. With this show, I have been able to be involved. A lot of people wanted to be involved but had no real way to be, and that was very sad. "Ineffectual" is a really debilitating way of feeling. I have been able to do this show, and I'm unboundedly grateful for it. And who knew from day one if people were going to laugh? I didn't care. This was my contribution. Obviously, people responded, because I'm still doing it nine months later.


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