The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe

by Jane Wagner

The Daily Post – review by Catherine Whitnall

When it comes to portraying roughly a dozen different characters in Jane Wagner’s The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, Marie Dame is nothing short of brilliant.

If you’re looking for signs, she’s certainly one of the brightest.

Wagner has earned numerous prestigious awards for her prescient cultural commentaries but it’s talented, skilled actresses like Dame who breathe life into those works. Without such style, panache and extensive intestinal fortitude, Search for Signs – would simply ramble on like a verbal diatribe. It would certainly be filled with sound and fury but, Shakespeare put it, signify nothing.

Dame is a tour de force which tears through this one-woman show devouring the script with an insatiable appetite as Trudy, a combination New York City bag lady and sage narrator of humanity.

An acute observer of the world with a knack for finding common sense and human values in the absurdities of modern life, Trudy takes the audience through a whirlwind tour of life on Planet Earth.

It all begins at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk, sometime ‘around’ lunch and it’s not long before Trudy locks into your consciousness.

With the whole of the production resting solely on her shoulders, Dame flows eloquently from one character to another. Being Trudy is an exhausting, physically demanding role, yet Dame makes it appear effortless. A tweak of a facial expression here or a slightly skewed hand gesture there and suddenly Dame is a drug-addicted body builder, a snobbish society woman and – fade in, fade out – a duo of sage street hookers. The static builds again and we see Dame seamlessly transform into a teenager filled with angst and confusion and then, a gaggle of ’70s feminists, all of
whom simply want their perceptual commentary on life to be heard. And appreciated.

Dame has total control over the characters she portrays on stage. Her mastery of voice control and precision timing is fine tuned to the point where they are knife edge crisp and flawless.

It’s fortunate too, as there is little choice.

The whole piece – like the Earth and its sun – revolves around her ability to not only speed through the witty, intense and, at times, hard-hitting dialogue, but to do it all alone. She shares the stage with only a handful of props and some exquisitely placed lighting cues courtesy of lighting/sound design director Brendan Gilhuly.

Kudos especially to director James Barrett for being able to capitalize on Dame’s eloquent ability to flow through the light-speed fast-moving production without losing pacing or focus. He’s managed to give Dame enough leeway to pay justice to the script and characters, while preventing her from veering dangerously out of control.

The result is near perfect.

While the audience nears exhaustion watching the first half of Dame’s break-neck performance, her energy never seems to wane.

One has to wonder where she hides the batteries.