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“Into the great wide open,” drawls Tom Petty on the sound system, “a rebel without a clue.” Well, Tom got it wrong this time. Not even a Manhattanite could mistake the cramped confines of the Club at La MaMa for a great wide open, and the rebel in question isn’t exactly clueless either. In Rebel Without a Pause, comedian-provocateur Reno doesn’t break any new performance ground (she doesn’t even bruise it). But she does occasionally demonstrate the acute and likable intelligence beneath her bleached blond curls.
As originally conceived, the show would have focused on Reno’s maturation and gradual transformation from bohemian to bourgeois. In the afterburn of the September 11 attacks, however, she has shifted the focus to local affairs and international politics. Reno is at her addlepated best in chronicling her ambivalent reactions. She finds herself no less critical of U.S. foreign policy, yet tears up at “God Bless America”; she makes jokes at Bush’s expense, yet treasures tender feelings for the Pentagon.
None of the material is new and much is frankly tired, but there’s a charm in the antic and digressive honesty with which Reno presents it. But charm only gets you so far, and all the amiability in the world won’t save jokes about daylight savings or Yankees-as-baseball-team-vs.-Yankees-as-early-Americans. Reno seems convinced that we care deeply that she drives a car in New York or maintains an irregular sleeping schedule. She fares better, though, when comparing an unrehearsed W. to “a drunk trying to act sober.” If the show doesn’t deserve a rebel yell, it at least earns some polite rebel applause.