"The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in The Universe" at The Shed is almost two plays' in one. We get Trudy the bag lady who makes clever, and at times hysterical observations of the society around her. She has the sticky post it's in her raincoat lining to prove it. Then we get the other eleven roles which includes sullen teen punk Agnus Angst; the feminist activists Edie, Lyn and Marge; and the wealthy posh Kate. Their scenes are interwoven by the character of Trudy, an enlightened vagrant who believes she is in communication with aliens. In 1986 "Signs" starred Lilly Tomlin and her performance won her a Tony for best actress in a play. Directed by John Bailey, the play would run for 391 performances and would tour for much longer throughout the United States. The play would be made into a film in 1991 and later would have a Broadway revival from 2000- 1.
In changing with the times, Jane Wagner (Playwright and executive producer) has updated the show to include things like AI, the digital era and technology as it affects us today. Like Lilly Tomlin, its new star, Cecily Strong (Saturday Night Live) is very deft with comedic expressions and giving "the business" for full laughter effect. The star and the show are successful on many fronts: great sound and special effects by Jeremy Chernick and Elisheba Ittoop; great lighting by Stacey Derosier (for all the women who thought they were Mad, No One Is Forgotten). "The Search for Signs" would never work without the aforementioned because the show is built on and written for all of these things to work if the show is to be successful. Like 1985-6, the one-woman show would be boring and fall flat without superb sound and lighting as well as acting. As a comedian and an actor, Cecily Strong was in many ways even better than Tomlin was in this role Both actors are cut from the same acting style; from "Laugh In" to "SNL" their styles are similar, a very good casting choice.
Through 90 intermission- less minutes, Strong keeps the audience amused. The reverb in the background, the obtuse beginnings and endings of scenes with lights gave us a chilling effect between new scenarios. With a one woman show like this, Leigh Silverman (Grand Horizon, The Lifespan of a Fact) was able to bring finality to one scene and then begin another with these strong fade outs and fade ins. We see Trudy separately as we do Agnus, Kate and the rest as differently as if was an entirely different play. Wagner then has all the different characters ebbing and flowing at different times throughout the performance. Kate is able to meet Trudy, the prostitutes and Bootcie the hairdresser outside Carnegie Hall. Chrissy's children protect little Isaac, he is the violinist playing Carnegie Hall (his mother went to the same college and were best friends). When "Intelligent Life" first came to Broadway it was billed as philosophical, political and exploring American society, art, power and the feminist movement. While like then, it still isn't in the audiences face nor overbearing on anyone subject. It pokes fun at the many things we hold dear. While the material isn't always great, Cecily Strong who makes her New York stage debut is excellent. Strong carries the show even when the script fades at times.
"The Search for Signs" was at its best when we meet the hippie girls from the 60's who were going to change the world. Young and naïve they wanted to change the world and got involved with every cause they could find. The ERA was going to give them equality, the EPA was the earth's savior, and they would one day all get married and save the world. As time went on, they all got a dose of reality; life wasn't as simple as they thought. Here, the play was at its best. The writing was interesting. With the "punk poet" and as "the teenager" was where the show got sloppy and boring. Even "the hair salon" scene was a bit flat; the jokes weren't that humorous, certainly not as funny as most of the evening was.
I enjoyed this show more than I did back in 1985 when I saw this play at The Plymouth Theatre. I thought this play was more interesting this time around. Like 1985, however, it doesn't always deliver the comedy the way it should.
About the Creator
I have been writing on theater since 1982. A graduate from Manhattan College B.S. A member of Alpha Sigma Lambda, which recognizes excellence in both English and Science. I have produced 12 shows on and off Broadway. I've seen over700 shows