The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe was originally produced in 1985 and starred Lily Tomlin. Playwright, Jane Wagner wrote the part for Tomlin, her longtime partner (now wife). The Shed’s recent revival remains true to the original, however, it has been revised for 2022. The play has been trimmed to ninety minutes with no intermission. Some characters have been cut and some of the references have been updated.
The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe is a one-woman show that tells the stories of ten characters that include a homeless woman, a male bodybuilder, two prostitutes, a housewife; a teenager; three feminist friends and a wealthy socialite. At first, the characters seem to live separate lives but as the play progresses the connections between them, although at times minimal, become apparent.
Cecily Strong’s diverse range of talent is highlighted in this performance. She hones into each of the ten characters and brings them to life. Some of the stronger characters she portrays are Trudy and Lyn. Trudy is a homeless lady who suffers from delusions. She is currently living in the theater and has recently befriended aliens. She tells the audience she has brought her friends to see the show and they are so enthralled with the audience. She says, “to see a group of strangers sitting together in the dark, laughing and crying about the same things just knocked them out.” It’s a beautiful notion considering the isolation brought upon by the pandemic. Strong captures the essence of this character and immediately grabs the audience’s attention. Kudos to Anita Yavich for designing the post-it coat.
Lyn is a feminist character who has met and fallen in love with a man, Bob. They met at the Transcendental Meditation Center and she feels it will be a fairytale relationship-- since he is also a feminist. However, her story starts to shift and the audience hears more of her marriage to Bob, of the perils of motherhood, and sadly the disintegration of her relationship. Strong’s portrayal of this character is solid. She evokes Lyn’s sentiments so the audience is able to see the progression of this character as she undergoes different phases of life.
As the play continues, the connections between the characters slowly begin to show. Some in direct ways and others through indirect objects or stories. This is part of Wagner’s message, to take a moment to bask in the interconnectedness of life. While we may not all be directly connected, we are part of a bigger picture- the Universe.
The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe tells stories of life. It captures some of the happy, more joyous moments as well as the unfortunate ones. Wagner’s script, although written almost thirty years ago, still touches on themes that remain relevant today. Love, loss, sadness, disappointment and hope. Life still manages to run through similar courses and The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life gives us a moment to share these experiences together and after a few years apart, it is a welcomed treat.
"The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe"
Written by Jane Wagner
Performed by Cecily Strong
Directed by Leigh Silverman
December 21, 2021 – February 6, 2022
The Shed (545 West 30th Street, NYC)/ @TheShedNY
Yani Perez, M.F.A, is a poet, playwright, translator and educator. Her plays have been presented in various theaters in the United States such as La Mama and Yale University as well as internationally in Bogotá, Colombia. She works at IATI Theater, one of the oldest Latinx theaters in NYC. She is currently working on translations of Latinx artists in hopes of introducing them to English-speaking audiences.