All the Galaxy's a Stage

Trudy, the bag lady, is having a hard time getting her space chums to understand the difference between soup and art. She shows them a can of Campbell’s soup. She shows them an Andy Warhol painting of cans of Campbell’s soup. And still they don’t get it. For more than two years, in Los Angeles and on Broadway, Lily Tomlin described their puzzlement and much, much more in Jane Wagner’s The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. Alone on stage, Tomlin portrayed a whole gallery of Americans of all ages, mostly women, but some men, too, caught up in the tribulations of their ingeniously interlocking contemporary lives. Performance art, women’s support groups, transcendental trout-fishing, love in the eighties, a what the-hell instance of artificial insemination by turkey baster—Tomlin never had richer material for her wild precision satire. So powerful is her precedent that one might suppose no one else would ever dare approach Wagner’s script again, but that would be to underestimate the bravado of the born performer. Mimi Wyche, who performs the play at the Mill Mountain Theatre, in Roanoke, Virginia, this month, is both scared and elated at the challenge. “I thought when I saw Lily Tomlin, I hope one day to be able to do something like that—but I didn’t know the rights were available. When I first saw the play I thought, These characters are Lily. Then when I read it. I realized that I want to explore them too.”