What a relief to have Reno in the world and on the stage! Reno, a performer so peculiar that she perverts any easy effort to describe her, has one of the most exciting shows I’ve recently seen. Her Rebel Without a Pause: Unrestrained Reflections on September 11th was developed at La Mama in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Last fall, Reno used the stage nightly to comment and respond to the day’s events to the point where these improvisational rants became the full evening show that moved uptown earlier this spring. She is hilarious and unforgiving. Hers is the only commercial performance I have seen to question the national rhetoric of patriotism and the increasing loss of civil liberties in the aftermath of September 11th. Perhaps only Reno, a Latina by birth who was raised unaware of her cultural background by her white adoptive family, could pull off such a scathing critique of the current Bush administration without sounding predictable and shrill. Reno lives blocks from ground zero, in “TriBeCastan,” as she now calls it. This is a piece as much about her neighborhood and her daily life as it is about terrorism and its effects. And yet there is nothing sentimental here except, someone might charge, her belief in the power of performance to make a difference in these confusing times. She is Aristophanic in her satire as well as in the raunchiness of her rants. Reno takes the risk of audience rejection, unwilling to compromise her integrity for our applause. Granted many of us in her audience share in her political viewpoints and are grateful for the public forum to have them voiced and heard, but Reno never settles for the easy identifications that are sometimes assumed with community-based productions. If there are affinities to be had, they too will need to be hard earned. At the end of her show, Reno greets her audience at the Zipper Theatre and Bar walking up to each of us and thanking us for joining her at her show. She listens attentively as we share with her our own reflections on September 11th and on the world since.

Reno’s Latino-ness is understandably complicated for her. She didn’t learn she was Latina until recently. In Reno Finds Her Mom, her 1998 HBO film, she searches out her cultural identity by searching for the woman who gave her up for adoption. Finding her birth mother did not end in reconciliation. Finding her audience, while no compensation, seems to have brought forth a different sense of belonging, one less clearly marked by set relations based on blood, law, or shared cultural history. So is this Latino theatre and what would be gained by naming it such? It’s certainly not the Latino theatre we are familiar with and is more logically linked with the feminist theatre of Lily Tomlin, Reno’s main mentor, producer, and close friend.