High-energy 'Citizen Reno' skewers current events

March 21, 1995|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

Center Stage's one-woman show series, "The Feminine Singular: Women Speak Solo," has started off with a comic kick from "Citizen Reno," the latest piece by the New York performance artist whose energy level is as high -- and occasionally as unruly -- as her trademark mass of peroxide curls.

Though "Citizen Reno" has been staged by a director (Tina Landau), in a theater, on a stylish set (designed by Heather Carson) and features a storyline with a beginning, middle and end, that story is essentially a thin framework for Reno's humorous commentary on current events.

And her commentary is definitely humorous. For example, in response to a headline about the September USAir crash: The black box, she exclaims, "is in perfect shape! Why don't they make a whole plane out of the black box?"

How does this relate to the story line? Tangentially at best.

The show begins with a recording of "Leave Me Alone," by the rock group Extreme. It's a fitting intro since the gist of "Citizen Reno" is that the title character hasn't left her apartment in three weeks. This exposition is delivered via a phone call from Reno's lover, Abbie, who is trying to coax her outside.

The call also informs us it's election day, and Reno's agoraphobia is her reaction to the state of the nation. When she tries to haul her pajama-garbed self out of an over-stuffed sofa, she grabs her stomach in pain and groans, "Newwwttt!"

Much of what follows consists of Reno's attempts to learn the election results -- although, thanks to the phone call, we know it's only 3 p.m.; the polls haven't closed. She does a few riffs off of newspaper headlines, then launches into a kind of scripted stream-of-consciousness, some of which works and some of which needs work.

A section about attending the MTV inauguration ball, augmented with life-sized cardboard cut-outs of the president and first lady, is one of the more successful bits, smoothly integrating Citizen Reno with her political subject matter. "It's Hillary and Bill -- the president and . . . the president," she announces when the victorious couple arrives at the ball.

Similarly, Reno comes close to achieving an effective synergy when she reflects back on the start of her relationship with Abbie, comparing the way new lovers, like campaigning politicians, tell us what we want to hear.

But other sections make little sense, particularly one in which she imagines having her own "restaurant-talk show" (whatever that is) and another in which she smashes a Diet Pepsi can and rants about foreign cleaning ladies. The most jarring bit, however, comes when she steps off the stage and chats with an audience member. Not only does this feel like something out of a nightclub comedian's routine, but it breaks the integrity of the stuck-at-home storyline.

Not that I ever believed Citizen Reno was trapped in her apartment. The situation might have felt more credibly claustrophobic, as well as more intimate, if Center Stage had reconfigured the flexible Head Theater into an in-the-round setting instead of a proscenium.

But in the end, the credibility of the character Reno is playing is far less important than the satirical sting of what she has to say. "My generation is in charge?" she remarks incredulously. "Don't they know what we're like?" See "Citizen Reno" and find out.

'CITIZEN RENO'

Where: Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays, with matinees 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Audio-described performance 8 p.m. March 28; sign-interpreted performance 2 p.m. April 1. Through April 2

Tickets: $23 and $28

Call: (410) 332-0033; TDD: (410) 332-4240

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