'Reno's New Show' uses offbeat humor to address serious issues

June 25, 1991|By Eric Adams

The way Reno describes what she does, you'd think she was just a bitter woman who lectures on morality, societal crises and the overall sadness of modern life.

"A lot of the show is about personal and political denial," she says in a telephone interview from Austin, Texas.

Sounds like serious stuff.

Later, talking about references in the show to current First Amendment issues, she notes, "you see how the erosion of our rights continues."

Almost makes you want to go home and crawl back into bed.

But then, Reno adds: "It's funny from start to finish. I've had audiences laughing hard all the way through."

Audiences at the Theatre Project get the opportunity to laugh along starting tomorrow night when Reno -- whose real name is Karen Renaud -- holds forth for a two-week engagement.

The 36-year-old writer, comedian and solo performance artist, famous for her hyperactive stage persona and censor-baiting vocabulary, is following up her 1989 off-Broadway show, "Reno: In Rage and Rehab," and her hour-long HBO comedy special with something new. The title: "Reno's New Show" ("I'm not an advertising type," is her apology-less explanation).

The new show, she says, is a step up from her last one. "It's on a higher level, it's more of a theatrical event. While the first show was about entertainment, this one is more about the character, i.e. me, going through a change, as one would see in a play." For this reason, Reno doesn't really consider herself a stand-up comic; this is theater -- it's storytelling and it's funny.

Her performance combines the political and the personal; her family life is as much a target as society's Big Problems. At one vTC point in the show, her eagle-eyed mother spots a bag of heroin sitting on top of the television. She mimics her angry reaction: "What's this doing here? This doesn't go here!" and then she explains her mother's illogical response: "She's more concerned with the way things look than with what's really going on."

The sets for the show are minimal and conceptual, probably to keep Reno from hurting herself as she romps around the stage. (( "I run around a lot. But there's no choreography. My body just remembers it, thank God, because I couldn't remember all that."

Reno began performing in the early '80s, after years of wandering around the country, in some poky New York City dives. In 1989 Rolling Stone magazine chose her as their Hot Prospect. Since then, she has performed at the Lincoln Center, begun a legitimate acting career with Joseph Papp's Public Theatre and the film, "The Hard Way" (with Michael J. Fox), and done the HBO show.

Aside from making her "rich for a year," HBO made her more serious about her work. "Until then," she says, "what I had been doing was totally screwing around in front of people." Now she works with a director, and "Reno's New Show" underwent a lot of "deconstruction" to get to it's present shape. "This show is a lot more accessible than the last one, in that I'm taking a wider range of emotional and dramatic issues and styles and addressing them, so more people can relate to the world we create there."

"I believe that most of the audiences today are being spoken down to, and our intellectual capacities are being shrunk as the years go by," Reno says, citing Andrew Dice Clay as a major


Reno, who also has ambitions for the big screen, says that much of her work is influenced nightly by the audience. "That's what's great about live performance, stuff comes up that you have no control over. You get to share with the audience."

'Reno's New Show'

'Reno's New Show'

Where: the Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: June 26-June 29, July 5, 8 p.m.; July 6, 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.; July 7, 3 p.m.

Tickets: $10, $15

Call: 752-8558.

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