Wow! That Eva DeVirgilis has some very talented hair. The actress wore a black shirt and pants throughout The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe from Henley Street Theatre. There were no costumes, no props, just a backlit screen that occasionally changed colors. I guess.
Nothing stole the show from Eva DeVirgilis in her portrayal of Trudy the bag lady, Chrissy the dyslexic secretary, Kate the rich, self-absorbed woman who just fired her, Agnus Angst the 15-year-old punk performance artist, suburbanite Marie and her husband-of-forever Lud (personal favorites!), prostitutes Brandy and Tina, coke-head Paul – and others! This one-woman show, penned in the late eighties by Julie Wagner as a showcase for sketch comedian Lily Tomlin, introduced us to a host of colorful and inspired characters onstage at Gottwald Playhouse.
I knew we were in for something special (I saw this with my 16-year-old daughter) when DeVirgilis first shuffled onstage as Trudy the bag lady. She immediately captured that essence of pathos one experiences when trying to avert the eye of the bag lady (or those guys on the corner with the sign). So effective was DeVirgilis that Trudy made me feel a little uncomfortable, as I’m sure was the intent. I was grateful there were other sketch characters to come.
And then there was the hair. With every hairstyle tweak – from bun to pigtails to high pony to long and flowing locks, this actress simply and powerfully embodied each of Wagner’s characters. Add to that, her masterful handle on everything physical in an actress’s repertoire – like chewing and talking simultaneously or reading the newspaper, for example. Ten minutes into the show, I was completely comfortable with Trudy and everyone else as DeVirgilis magically transformed into each character.
It’s Trudy who leads the way. The delightfully addled, yet profound bag lady attempts to help non-Earth aliens understand life on this planet by tuning into different characters and their connections. It’s a tall order to be sure, but thanks to a Tony-award winning script, an absolutely inspired performance from Eva DeVirgilis, and the courage of Henley Street Theatre to produce this one in the first place, we get to enjoy this goosebump-inducing work of art!
The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe is Henley Street’s first production of the company’s sixth season. Showing at the Gottwald Playhouse at CenterStage, the size of this venue allows for a true connection between audience and in this case, the one amazing performer onstage. Kudos to Henley Street for staging this at Gottwald, where the austerity doesn’t detract from what the director and performer are trying to accomplish.
Don’t miss The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, playing now through December 31 at Gottwald Playhouse.
Reviewed by Karen Schwartzkopf