The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe: Revisited — GO!

<i>The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe: Revisited</i> — GO!

Ken Sawyer Rachel Sorsa and Julanne Chidi Hill

Much but not all of Jane Wagner’s astute and witty take on modern American life circa the 1980s is preserved in this engaging multi-performer adaptation directed by Ken Sawyer at the L.A. LGBT Center. Wagner wrote The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe as a one-woman show for her partner, Lily Tomlin, who carried it to Broadway in 1985 and ’86, and won a Tony. The main character, Trudy (Charlotte Gulezian), is a loquacious bag lady who acts as guide (or so she believes) for space aliens searching for signs of intelligent life on our planet. (The implication throughout the play is that there is scant evidence of such in our culture — a truth that seems truer now than ever, sad to say.)

This adaptation preserves Wagner’s script pretty much as is, but the various characters are portrayed by a dozen actors instead of one, and the show’s uneven quality directly relates to the varying quality of the performances. Each role requires deft comic skill and while all the work is good, some of it is better.

Under Sawyer’s direction (he directed the deservingly award-winning Hit the Wall last year), this company again relates a complex series of stories within a very small space. Trudy’s base of operation is downtown Manhattan, and the pulsating busyness of her environs is relayed in the colorful videography (production design by Nick Santiago) suggesting the city’s looming landmarks, while the floor of the small proscenium is drawn to represent, tongue-in-cheek, astrological spheres (set by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz).

Among the characters who come most alive in Act 1 are Paul (Jeremy Luke), a clueless (at first) body-building jock whose marriage begins to fall apart after he discovers his wife, Penny, has rated him a “3” in a woman’s magazine, and hits the skids completely after he confesses to a drug-induced one-night stand. Sasha Pasternak gives one of the most intense performances in the first half as a volcanic 15-year-old foisted on her white-bread grandparents who’ve barely recovered from their experience with her mother. And Rachel Sorsa, eschewing cliché, turns the role of a world-weary philosophizing hooker into a cameo classic.

As the pivotal Trudy, Gulezian’s is a skillful portrayal, but a touch more madness emanating from the belly is in order.

The pleasures of Act 2 emerge in a lengthy sequence that lampoons modern American feminists’ efforts to have it all. Kristina Johnson plays Lyn, who finds the sensitive man of her dreams but learns the hard way that the realities in life don’t always support ideals. The writing may be strewn with 1980s memes, but the comedy and tragedy, here and elsewhere, arise from human nature and transcend time periods.


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