Cultural Arts: Stages
The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Universe: Revisited
For the first time in its 35-year history, Jane Wagner’s iconic play has been reinvented as a fully staged production performed by a company of 12 actors. In The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe: Revisited audiences embark on a hilarious, tender, and profound journey through the streets, across the world, and far beyond.
Written by Jane Wagner
Directed by Ken Sawyer
Produced by Los Angeles LGBT Center/Jon Imparato
Premiered at the Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre on October 8, 2016
TINA……….Julanne Chidi Hill
Directed by Ken Sawyer; original music by Anna Waronker and Charlotte Caffey; setting by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz; costumes by Paula Higgins; lighting by Matt Richter and Adam Earle; sound by Ken Sawyer and Adam Earle; projection design by Nicholas Santiago; additional sound by Eric Snodgrass; scenic artist Hillary Bauman; choreography by Yusuf Nasir; casting by Beth Ryne and Jami Rudofsky; production stage manager Rebecca Schoenberg; production manager Patricia Sutherland; technical director Matt Richter; mime instructor Mo Gaffney; and crew Eric Babb, Brad Bentz, Ffaelan Condragh, Adam Earle, Kathleen Jaffe, Minta Manning, Maggie Marx, Rene Parras, Edwin Peraza, and Rebecca Schoenberg.
It’s been a familiar gambit for some time for actors to take a famous play and turn it into a one-person show ‑ essaying all the roles to display his or her virtuosity—but I’d never heard of the reverse being done until now.
The current production at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe: Revisited, takes the iconic Lily Tomlin one-woman show and reconfigures it with a talented cast of twelve. If, on balance, the piece still seems like it would be more effective as a one-person vehicle, it’s a small quibble, considering the wealth of terrific acting and the sharp wit and wisdom of Jane Wagner’s writing still on display.
Homeless sage Trudy (Charlotte Gulezian) is our host and guide in trying to explain the human race to some alien visitors. She drops in on disparate examples of humanity, including Agnus (Sasha Pasternak), a disaffected young punk, Kate (Ann Noble), a dissatisfied rich woman, Paul (Jeremy Luke) a cheating husband, and a trio of young women from the 70s struggling to balance feminist activism with the trials of everyday life.
Gulezian, a beguiling combination of wide-eyed wonder and sly commentary, channels Tomlin in a lovely way. Pasternak does a nice job with some of the show’s most dated material, getting to the ferocity and heartbreak at the heart of her character. Noble is very funny as the bored and imperious Kate, and Luke portrays the confused but ultimately decent Paul with compassion. Most impressive, however, is Kristina Johnson as Lyn, an earnest feminist and a mother; she depicts a decade of life changes in a tour de force performance that brings the show to messy, glorious life.
Director Ken Sawyer pulls all of the show’s many elements together seamlessly, staging everything with fluid grace. His sound design, which adds details to enrich the scenes, is particularly impressive, from the squeak of a straw in a cup to the slosh of a waterbed. Wagner’s writing still holds up very well, as, for example, her concept of reality as a collective hunch, or her witty asides, including one about the super-liberated non-sexist man who remembers where he was when Sylvia Plath died.
This revisitation of Tomlin/Wagner’s play is a successful and entertaining experiment, itself a sign of intelligent life in the universe.