Hot Water

-- Mike Isaacson

Reno Finds Her Mind
By Reno
Women CenterStage at COCA

The name Karen Patricia doesn't really fit the person we see onstage. That's why the world knows her only by her last name, Reno. It has an appropriately carnivalesque sound. With a build inspired by a fireplug, Reno comes on like Bette Midler on speed. But her mind works more like George Carlin's, probing the odd corners of life and language, making us laugh at the weird juxtapositions we take for granted until she points them out to us. And she shows the same disregard for the niceties of language and life that got Carlin into trouble with the FCC.

Reno blew into town last weekend for the Women CenterStage series at COCA. She kept a full house alternately chuckling and guffawing for almost two hours.

The stage at COCA had some candles and a trio of stuffed animals strewn around. They were purely eye candy, neither used nor referred to by Reno. She doesn't need a set for what is essentially a standup-comedy routine. This is a tightly organized routine, and Reno has put more thought into it than goes into most standup routines. It's a routine in which form and content match perfectly. The form appears to be a random, stream-of-consciousness flow of thoughts. It gives us a picture of the evening's subject, Reno's mind. This is, of course, a cunningly constructed picture, a random flow designed to reveal just those juxtapositions that call forth laughter and insight.

Reno began the evening by telling us about her problems with time. Time passes too quickly. She wants to call time-out, as in a basketball game. This leads inexorably to consideration of bankers' hours, which calls forth an exploration of the word "escrow." What is it? Where is it? Where does money go when it's put in escrow?

A trip to Sears to try -- fruitlessly -- to use the new credit card they sent Reno led somehow to the question of why TV sportscasters focus on WNBA players who have hyphenated last names and how many children they have. And to a complaint about the way female genitalia are arranged. In a local touch, she even came up with an explanation for why the Rams lose so many games. It has to do with the instructions in a box of tampons. Don't ask.

The intensity of Reno's impassioned delivery carries you happily over the rare weak moments in her material and on to the next hilarious insight that pops out of the strange recesses of her brain. By the end of the evening, you may agree with the therapist who gave Reno a diagnosis of adult attention-deficit disorder. You will also agree with Reno's decision not to have a brain scan in order to locate the problem. Reno finds her mind just fine as it is. So do we.

-- Bob Wilcox

Man of La Mancha
By Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion
UM-St. Louis Department of Music

You probably can't compress all the complex riches of Miguel de Cervantes' novel Don Quixote into the two hours' traffic of the stage. Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion, creators of the musical Man of La Mancha, wisely framed their adaptation as a drama improvised by Cervantes for and with his fellow prisoners in a dungeon of the Inquisition. That allows them to focus on the courage needed to live the life of the imagination, as the artist does, and the value such courage bestows on even the lowliest person. It's the theme enshrined in the show's best-known number, "The Impossible Dream."

The Department of Music at the University of Missouri-St. Louis wisely hired Milton Zoth to direct their recent production of Man of La Mancha. Zoth saw to it that the cast felt confident onstage and always told the story clearly. He got help from Patrick Huber's crannied, multileveled set, ribbed with dinosaur bones -- why bones, I don't know, but it did look good -- and Huber's sculptural lighting. Teresa Doggett created eye appeal through the patterns and textures of the rags-and-tatters costumes, and choreographer Cindy Duggan gave the performers amusing steps that didn't strain their limited experience.

For this production obviously sprang from a university program that trains singers, not actors. The acting rarely showed much range and could be amateurish (the text is not easy to speak). But it was never weak or embarrassing. And the singing was very fine. A strong wind ensemble made up mostly of UM-St. Louis faculty members, conducted by James Richards, provided firm support. Faculty member Mark Madsen, who produced the evening, gave clear voice to Cervantes and a nicely whimsical quality to Quixote. Students Michele Eise, as Aldonza, and Joe Mosier, as Sancho, showed strong, well-trained voices, as did all the supporting players. I was particularly taken with both the acting and singing of Keith Boyer as the Padre.

This was UM-St. Louis' first musical production in a decade. I hope we don't have to wait so long for their next one.

-- Bob Wilcox

Dance Conduit
Repertory Arts Movement

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