Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe Revisited by Jan Wagner


Charlotte Gulezian - Photos by Ken Sawyer

By Joe Straw

I often wonder why we send probes to lifeless planets.  And, if there is life, why do we send slow moving rovers onto their deserts?  Why don’t we send a faster rover to the rural areas where there is life and flowers?

I haven’t given up finding meaning on what the universe has to offer.  This year has been very bizarre in that I’ve come across people that I have worked with over thirty years ago.  In this show it is Joe Hart.  I recognized his face right away, went to the bio and there it was The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas circa ‘79 at the Pantages with Alexis Smith, Jeff Calhoun Tommy Tune, et al.  

What does this all mean? Am I making my last rounds for that ubiquitous spaceship in the sky? – Narrator

A couple of observations stand out in the press release.  There were multiple characters (actors) riding on a spaceship to destinations unknown.  That’s odd.  Wasn’t this was a one-woman show?  And, wasn’t Lilly Tomlin the only person in the show? Who are all these other Revisited characters?

Los Angeles LGBT Center presents The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe Revisited written by Jane Wagner, Originally Performed by Lily Tomlin and Directed by Ken Sawyer and Produced by Jon Imparato/Los Angeles LGBT Center through November 20th, 2016 at the Davidson/Valentini Theatre.

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life In The Universe Revisited by Ms. Wagner is a theatrical event for your delectation, often brilliant, and hilariously offbeat. Ms. Wagner’s fictive picture and her literary acumen are awe-inspiring. Search is as unpredictable as theatre gets and inexplicably the reason for theatre on this night, just ask the aliens.   

Thinking back on the history of this show, only an extremely physically fit Lily Tomlin could have survived the machinations. One is not sure how she handled the rigors’ of the onerous dialogue, along with the mime, costume changes, and then work within the constraints of the sound cues.  

The show, delayed a week, has numerous sound cues with multiple actors executing those cues through mime. Actors, on this night, came off the stage dripping wet with perspiration. For this type of venue, having multiple actors perform in this show is a brilliant ideal.   

Search is a show set in the ‘80s and is an unexpected exploration of intelligent life here on planet earth. Who is searching for intelligent life? Do they find it?  Or, after observing the characters, do the aliens step on the gas and go home?

Trudy (Charlotte Gulezian) is downright batty but has the ability to tune in to other peoples lives.  If the aliens are relying on her to keep them informed about life on earth, then one can only think the aliens are looking for a different type of intelligence. Who can say? 

Trudy is likeable.  But, have the aliens made a big mistake, or the right choice by landing on top of an eclectic gathering of humanity?  No one believes the aliens will willfully go after the daft.  One might think, if they are looking for real intelligent life, they should have landed at Washington Square and walked over to NYU.

Fun aside.

Search is a character driven show and everyone has to be on top of his or her game to tie in every aspect of the show. Ken Sawyer, the director, has done a marvelous job and the actors are every bit incredible.  

The opening weekend shows the seams and there is theatrical stuff that needs a tuck here and a clip there.  My observations are my own but something wasn’t quite working, little things, one observes, and sometimes a few notes help. Relationships are the key, but they are only minor things that one will get to later. 

The play is about Trudy a homeless woman negotiating her way along the streets. (And for some reason the setting felt like San Francisco with all the psychedelic new age designs on the upstage wall. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, Scenic Design) But there is a joke that references Carnegie Hall so the mind set quickly switches to the city of New York.

“Am I crazy? Yes.” – Trudy

Trudy is part of our growing segment of the homeless population.  And things are not quite right in her head, not all, just some.  She is a former designer and creative consultant who has a large chemical imbalance in her brain that keeps her on the streets.   At present, her clothes are tattered, her socks don’t match, and the dirt appears to be a living organism on her being. She pushes her imaginary shopping cart, her reliquary, and waits for aliens to absorb her transmissions from her umbrella hat.  The aliens are there, you just don’t see them the way Trudy sees them.    

But in the meantime, the populace, connected to her, is under surveillance, Trudy watches and takes notes.  How she manages to pass the notes is anyone’s guess.  Invisible or real post it notes may just be a figment of her imagination.  (Nicely choreographed by Mo Gaffney, Mime Instructor.) 

Funny thing about those aliens, they don’t know the difference between “art and soup”.

Charlotte Gulezian plays Trudy and is the liaisons with the aliens and this is where the problems lie, because the audience has to understand the connection, which must be deeply felt.  At times Trudy goes off to another part of the set and observes life but doesn't appear to be in a trance, isn’t wearing the umbrella hat, and at times doesn’t connect to the other players on stage.  So, there are moments where she is left with little to do.  (In a one-woman show this would not be a concern.)  But, in this Revisited version, Trudy needs to work when she is upstage, taking notes, mental or otherwise, or we need to know that she is offstage observing when the other characters are onstage. That aside Gulezian presents an interest character, with a wonderful raspy voice, and one that could go off in many different directions.

Julia Aks does a fine job as Chrissy, a woman who is lost in her working life, so she takes aerobic classes, and looks for more answers in the locker room of her gym. She fears being out of work and has a constant fear of being fired. Aks has a marvelous look and a very strong voice.

“But I get these psychic flashes sometimes;”  - Paul

Jeremy Luke is outstanding as Paul the jaded lover ranked three on a scale of ten by his now ex-wife.  Alcohol and cocaine were his drugs of choice abuse but now he sees life in another fashion, slightly mixed up, but different. Luke does some very nice work on stage, and creates a character that is very unique in manner and deed and kind of quirky, which is what the aliens like.  

It’s one thing to tolerate a boring marriage, but a boring affair does not make sense.” – Kate

Ann Nobel

Ann Nobel is terrific as Kate, a woman who is rich and bored to death.  But, Nobel makes both attributes funny as she glides into the meaning of life, finding delight in the meaningless, and the twinkle in the trivial to share with her meaningless and frivolous friends. Nobel is so subtle in execution and so grand in delivery.  

…last night, my stepmom, she accuses me of leaving dirty fingerprints on the cheese.” – Angus Angst.

Sasha Pasternak gives an interesting performance and Agnus, a performance artist that lives with her Dad and Stepmom but is thrown out and has to take refuge with her grandmother and grandfather. Angus seeks help but will go about her performance artistry despite the conflict in her life. Agnus say she’s “DIF-FER-ENT”. Aliens like “DIF-FER-ENT” and this is possibly Agnus’ connection to Trudy for the aliens. There’s other avenues to be discover by Pasternak in this character something that pushes creative boundaries.

Janet used to beg me, she’d say “Mama, please join a consciousness-raising group.” I’d say, “Honey, what on earth would I do at a consciousness-raising group?” - Marie

Joe Hart and Kimberly Jürgen

Kimberly Jürgen is Marie Speck, a simple homebody but someone who has a little more on the ball and wants to improve herself, if she only knew what needed improvement. Jürgen has a very fine look and makes the character an inquisitive being.  She is a character that appears to be void of stress, or sometimes-just void, and one thinks the aliens are looking for that this year.  

“You’ve got a brain like a hummingbird.” – Lud

Well, probably not a good thing to say to your wife.  Joe Hart is Lud Speck and really has a problem connecting with his granddaughter and getting her on the right track.  About the only thing he can come up with to get her in a good mood is recreating chocolate mustaches he used to wear when she was little.  Any thing for a smile, but Lud hasn’t got a clue on how to manage her.  One is not clear on the relationship to Trudy other than keeping his granddaughter on the right artistic track because, in the end, aliens love the theatre.  

L - R Rachel Sorsa and Julanne Chidi Hill

“People don’t need sex so much as they need to be listened to.  People don’t realize that’s the secret of our business.” – Brandy

“Yeah, that’s the first thing you learn after fellatio is how to listen.” - Tina

Rachel Sorsa is brilliant as Brandi a prostitute that slips into a car with her partner to tell her life story to a john who only wants to tape record their lives. Sorsa reaches into the character and provides us with a very deep understanding of Brandi.  Sorsa is equally funny and nails this character to the core. In a word the work is, outstanding.  Julanne Chidi Hall is equally amazing as Tina the other prostitute that slips into the back seat. Hall’s level of concentration is mesmerizing and her manner of telling her story paints a beautiful picture.  Wonderful work.  Despite the characters current profession, they have dreams of moving their occupation into another hands off realm, telephone sex.

L - R Kristina Johnson, Anny Rosario, Bellina Logan

Kristina Johnson plays Lyn, a feminist, that explores, via her doctor and her diary, multiple sides of the humanistic equations, both sexes, and is connected to performance artists, Janet (not seen Agnus’ mom) that wants her to explore her non-linear side. It is a garage sale free ride of thoughts, less equations, perfectly suitable for aliens that want to acquire that information. At least, at the end of the day, that’s what I get. Johnson work is well done, but about halfway through, one thinks about her relationship to Trudy and how it all fits.

“I don’t care if I got the cheekbones of an isosceles triangle or the forehead of a Pithecanthropus. I look at myself and I don’t see any flaws; that’s what these consciousness-raising self-examination are all about.” – Edie 

Anny Rosario plays Edie.  And Edie is Lyn’s friend but she is partnered with Pam.  Paul has given her free sperm, in a turkey baster no less, which must have been fun, for someone.  Edie and baster had a son, a prodigy of the violin, who could create a sound that would give anyone goose bumps, especially for the aliens.    

Bellina Logan is Marge, another one of Lyn’s friends and also a feminist. Marge takes a fancy to bad men, the kind normal women are attracted to at a particular time of their emotional month. Logan is terrific.

Ken Sawyer, the Director and Sound Designer, manages a pack a wallop in this version of Search.  There are many marvelous things going on during the night. There is a line, about the theatre, near the end of the show that strikes a deep emotional cord within me.  And to me, represents the through line that ties in all of the characters, and the aliens.  But, the night I was there I was slightly bumfuzzled tying the relationships to each other and then to Trudy.  I see can see this as a one-woman show and how that one character can tie in to the rest of the characters.  But, with this many characters, it’s almost like a tag team match, for which you need to see the tag. And the trance, that is so clear in the play, but not so clear on stage. The umbrella hat may help Trudy when she goes into trance (and she must go into some kind of trance) and is able to see what goes on in the life of the others. She needs to do this to report back to the aliens.  Also, Lyn takes us farther down the road into the unknown until we are lost in a wilderness, not understanding how this all connects to Trudy and then to the aliens. Certainly, there is more to be had here especially with Edie and Marge. 

Why are the characters extreme in this play?  It is possibly because the aliens find them extremely interesting, funny, and wise.  

The Original Music in the play was created by Anna Waronker and Charlotte Caffey.

Other members of the creative team are as follows:

Paula Higgins – Costume Design
Matt Richter & Adam Earle – Lighting Design
Ken Sawyer – Sound Design
Eric Snodgrass – Additional Sound
Nicholas Santiago – Production Design
Yusuf Nasir – Chorography
Adam Earle – Assistant Director/Sound Operator
Rebecca Shoenberg – Production Stage Manager/Light and Video Operator
Matt Richter – Technical Director
Patricia Sutherland – Production Manager
Beth Ryne and Jami Rudofsky – Casting
Ken Werther Publicity – Press Representative
Brad Bentz – Master Carpenter
Rene Parras – Set Carpenter
Hillary Bauman – Scenic Artist
Maggie Marx – Assistant Stage Manager; Wardrobe, Drapery Assistant
Kathleen Jaffe, Maggie Marx, Edwin Peraza – Electrics
Eric Babb – Drapery Fabrication
Minta Manning – Draper
Ffaelan Condragh – Rigging and Ladder Construction
Kathleen Jaffee, Maggie Marx, Edwin Peraza – Set Crew

Run! Run! Run! And take an abductee, because there is so much more to understand.

Reservations:  323-860-7300

Davidson/Valentini Theatre
1125 N. McCadden Place
Hollywood, CA  90038

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