MY LIFE I wanted to be somebody. Now I see I should have been
more specific.” So says a character in the probing and challenging
The Search for Signs of Intelligent
Life in the Universe, holding court at Norfolk's innovative
2nd Story Theatre.
This is an intriguing evening of one-actress bravura. Pam Good's
energy, timing and emotional commitment are awesome to watch as
she becomes 11 characters. She proves that this play need not
remain forever in the shadow of Lily Tomlin, who performed it
on Broadway in 1985. As a vehicle for a single actress, the play
produces a triumph or nothing at all. Happily, the former is the
This work is more complex, intricate and deeper than anything
Good has attempted before, and it is obvious that she savors every
moment of it. She's like a panther ready to pounce on every line.
And there are some great lines — insights that send us away
with thoughts to ponder. Kate, a trendy and jaded socialite, points
out, wearily, that “it's one thing to have a boring marriage,
but a boring affair doesn't make sense.”
Someone else observes that “having everything can make you
stop wanting anything.”
We are informed that “human beings are the only species
that play to win. That's why we have so many losers.”
More than a monologue, this is a play for a lone actress, with
the characters forming an ensemble. The writing, by Jane Wagner,
ranges from the profound to the strained. Regrettably, much of
the material is now dated.
Yesterday's issues are too much at the forefront. The material
is obsessed with cocaine and marijuana use. People talk about
listening to John Cage tapes and gathering to compare Patty Hearst
theories. We are told of the regrets that “there is no more
avant garde.” The women's movement seems an issue, carefully
detailed from the birth of Ms. magazine to the vice-presidential
nomination of Geraldine Ferraro. There are even G. Gordon Liddy
references. All this stamps a particular old-hat image on the
evening, particularly for a theatre so committed to newness and
But if Signs is now to be taken as a period piece rather
than an on-the-edge evening, it should still be taken. It remains
original and subversive.
2nd Story Theatre is understandably looking for another hit to
match its successful run of The Kathy and Mo Show, in
which Good was half of the cast. Signs is not likely to be that
Under Steve Koherr's thoughtful direction, Good effectively uses
body and voice in place of props and costumes.
And Good, ultimately, is the main reason to see The Search
for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. She is highly
creative and determined commitment to make it work, and her determination
turns it into our fascination.