Past Reviews

Broadway Reviews

The Search for Signs of
Intelligent Life In The Universe

Theatre Review by Thomas Burke

NEW YORK - November 17, 2000

At one point late in Jane Wagner's The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life In The Universe, which opened last night at the Booth Theatre, Lily Tomlin (or was it Trudy?) referred in passing to the show as a play. After thinking about it, I must admit she was right and it was a bit surprising. Here we were, a full house, each of us thinking we were seeing a one woman show, a series of monologues or dialogues (between at least a dozen distinct and well defined characters who show up during the little over two hours) and right at the end it's pointed out to us that we have really been enjoying a superbly written and fully realized play. (There were hints of it earlier, of course, when the links and relationships between all these characters started to become obvious in the second act.) So, without saying it directly, or making much of it at all, Jane Wagner sets us up to ponder yet one more simple truth of life (that we are all somehow and on some level connected to each other) as we leave the theatre.

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life In The Universe does that sort of thing to you, has that effect on you, all evening. The significance if it doesn't immediately present itself though, as you are preoccupied with laughing far too much or sitting, watching in awe what Lily is doing up there on that stage at any given moment throughout most of the evening. What Oscar Wilde, at his best, did for the witty epigram, Jane Wagner does for the ironic observation, the simple statement made out of context, and the scrambled truth which, suddenly and with great force, makes more sense than it ever did before. Which is to say that she turns life - several lives for that matter - into nothing less than art. (And, as Trudy would point out, not soup-art, but art-art.)

Is there a more gifted, emotionally ravishing, talented, and astonishingly funny actress in the world than Lily Tomlin? Perhaps it's just the contented, almost sexual after-glow of one of the most entertaining, pleasurable, and rewarding evening I've had in the theatre in many years, but I don't think so. There's Lily (she plays herself at times), Trudy, Agnus Angst, Chrissy, Kate, Paul, Lud, Marie, Tina, Brandy, Lyn, Edie, and Margie. Most actresses would consider it a job well done to bring only one, or at most a few of these characters to life in a single performance. Here, within 130 minutes, Miss Tomlin triumphs with each character in turn.

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life In The Universe is booked for only eight more weeks, a limited engagement at the Booth, through January 21, 2001. As Trudy, the eternal optimistic realist might observe, don't worry, both Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin are sure to be back soon, maybe in just another 20 or 30 years or so. Give yourself the nicest present possible this holiday season and see The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life In The Universe this time around.


The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life In The Universe Written and directed by Jane Wagner. Starring Lily Tomlin. Set design by Klara Zieglerova. Sound design by Tom Clark and Mark Bennett. Lighting design by Ken Billington.

Theatre: Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue

Running time: 2 hours and 25 minutes with one 15 minute intermission

Audience: May be appropriate for children 8 and older. Children under 4 are not permitted in the theatre.

Schedule: Tuesday through Saturday 8 PM, Saturday 2 PM, Sunday 3 PM (This is a limited engagement through January 21, 2001)

Ticket prices: Orchestra $65, Mezzanine $65 and $50

Rush Tickets: $20 Student Rush tickets are available on the day of performance only, in person at the Box Office. Valid Student ID must be presented, limit 2 tickets per ID, subject to availability

Tickets online: Tele-charge

Tickets by phone: Tele-charge at (212)239-6200, or outside the New York metro area (800)545-2559, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Tickets in person: Box Office hours Monday through Saturday 10 AM to 8 PM, Sunday Noon to 6 PM

Tickets by Snail Mail: The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, PO Box 998, Times Square Station, New York, NY 10108-0998

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