Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Search for Signs of Intelligent LIfe in the Universe - Jane Wagner

In keeping with randomness, this was at the used book store and I picked it up. First performed in 1985 by Lily Tomlin, (written for her by her partner, Wagner) it is a multi-character play to be performed by one actress. It unfolds in three parts and our guide throughout is Trudy, a former design executive, now bag lady who's gone crazy - or sane as the play suggests. She's in touch with aliens and assisting them on their search to understand humans, her knack is to channel other people - bringing them to life on stage.

The first part of the play introduces several characters of different walks of life and experiences in the 80s in America. The second zeros in on a group of women who have been friends since the ERA movement and struggle with roles of wife, mother, lover, activist, career achiever. There are connections between the first characters and the stories told amongst this group of women. The final section brings more of the characters into connection and has Trudy saying goodbye to the aliens, reflecting in amazement on our shared humanity.

Philosophical, representing a broad swath of americans during a moment in time, reflecting on where society had come from in the 70s and what it was wrestling with now in the mid-80s, it was long running on Broadway and was made into a film in 1991.

And now, reading it, it makes me sad somehow. Something about the hopefulness of the play looking at a moment in history 25 years ago, and a sense now of the dizzy-ing scale of the problems in our country and our world. The play's central point of view, that humanity should be appreciated, standing back in amazement and awe (doing "awe-robics") at people's ability to cry, to get goosebumps, to laugh - feels hollowed out, its simple truth eroded away by blogs and self-help literature and whimsical art saturating the atmosphere and becoming comfortable, self-assuring, white noise - unable to effect change.

I am left feeling cynical and depressed. I don't feel a lack of awe, but I feel overwhelmed by a lack of power to protect what is awe-inspiring.

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