Laugh Out Loud

Some performers search for signs of intelligent life. Others search for their own gray matter. When celebrated New York monologist-crank-lesbian-comedian Reno makes her first South Florida appearance as part of the Miami Light Project's Come Out Laughing series, she'll bring the results of her latest exploration in the show Reno Finds Her Mind. "My mind is a bit out of control," says the performer whose previous project, Reno Finds Her Mom, involved a quest for her birth mother and the roots of her Hispanic identity. "I ask it to come over here," she says of her brain. "And it will not. So I go up in front of an audience and that makes my mind go on track."

Anyone who has seen Reno knows her mind travels on a track unlike anyone else's. A rabid anti-Republican and political firebrand, she attacks the status quo from all sides of the issues and generally from multiple sides of the stage. An alum of venerable performance spaces such as New York's WOW Café and P.S. 122, Reno works a room by bouncing off its walls as though propelled by verbal rocket fuel.

Where does this energy come from? The performer frequently chalks up her physical and verbal pyrotechnics to intense anger over her ill-conceived upbringing as a Hispanic baby adopted by a Waspy Northeastern couple who didn't know what to make of her emotionality or leftist leanings. (The film version of Reno Finds Her Mom, which documents her childhood and its consequences, became an HBO movie in 1998, featuring Mary Tyler Moore.)

In her new work Reno says she may improvise for the Miami audience, but "I'm sure I'll hit on female genital mutilation and the mutilation of democracy in America." Not to mention, "how the World Wide Web is the savior of mankind." What she means is: "What hype it is -- it's a bunch of bullshit. The entire Gutenberg press could have been reinvented in the time it takes some Websites to download." Noting that she recently hosted an awards ceremony honoring "courageous resisters," including police brutality victim Abner Louima, Reno adds, "I usually mention a thing or two about our boys in blue."

She may be the antithesis of the stereotypical good Hispanic girl -- outspoken, liberal, and lesbian -- but Miami audiences will be interested to know that Reno's heritage is part Cuban. (Her grandfather was born in Havana.) The performer asserts she really doesn't know enough about Miami to "be mouthing off about it," but admits to being perplexed by the city's national image. "I read recently The New Yorker article about the Miami Herald," which documented the legacy of the citywide schism between Hispanics and Anglos. "That was depressing," she says.

Reno's opinions haven't made her exactly popular, except among the liberal downtown crowd that tends to agree with her description of New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as "a benign version of Hannibal Lecter." Many of those same people and their Miami counterparts will probably be interested in her opinions on the WNBA, another subject that may be covered in her show: "It's a search for hyphenates [married heterosexual women]. It was difficult for them to find a woman who could dribble a ball and schtup a man, but the media features are all on the hyphenates and that pisses me off. I mean, do we ever hear about how many kids Larry Bird had?"

Though her biggest project these days involves getting a backer for a talk show she'd like to do ("a political Pee-wee's Playhouse"), Reno may also make time to do some more exploring of her ethnic background. Having recently discovered her Cuban heritage, Reno says she'd like to visit the island. "When I first met my mother, we talked about going. I thought it would really be wonderful."

Can she speak Spanish?

"Oh God, no. I can barely speak English!"

Reno performs at 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. Saturday, July 31, at the Colony Theater, 1040 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach. Tickets cost $20. Call 305-576-4350.

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Robin Dougherty