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Henley Street Theatre The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Universe

By • Dec 8th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Universe
Henley Street Theatre
Gottwald Playhouse at Richmond CenterStage, Richmond, VA
Through December 31st
2:30 with one intermission
$20-$35/$50 New Year’s Eve
Reviewed December 7th, 2012

In the two months that I have been reviewing shows for ShowBizRadio.com, I have been exposed to the vast and impressive theater venues throughout the Richmond area. I have been learning that there is truly something for everyone in this area.

The Henley Street Theater Company’s production of The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Universe is an example of a good show that just wasn’t to my taste, or that of my guest, my fellow teacher Michael. The story and humor are clearly aimed at a “more mature and seasoned” audience (and the one young guy, with a very loud laugh).

The show features one actress, one white wall and a chair. Eva DeVirgilis is perfectly stellar in this one woman show, made famous by Lily Tomlin. However, DeVirgilis’ style is less like Tomlin and more akin to Tina Fey, Gilda Radner, my ex-girlfriend Lori, and one of my older special education students…but I digress…

DeVirgilis is truly amazing in her ability to weave together the tapestry of the lives of over a dozen characters; jumping from one to another with a simple lighting change and a flip of her hair. Her comedic timing, facial expressions, vocal variety and physical expression were all spot on. Just memorizing all those lines earned her a well-deserved standing ovation.

The two biggest problems for me came in the director’s choices to remain true to the original script and style. There are no props, no costumes and no sets in Henley Street’s production; as in the original. In later productions, and of course in the movie made by Tomlin as well, some of these have been added to enhance the performance and make it more visually appealing.

It detracted from the performance for me to have a bag lady pantomiming her bags, and other characters lacking easy essentials like a glass, a soup can or a TV remote. Likewise, it would have helped distinguish between the characters to just add in “essence” of costuming such as a skirt, necklace or flea collar (see the show — you’ll understand). Especially towards the middle of the second act, it became very confusing trying to follow which character DeVirgilis was slipping into — they came so fast and furious. (Even the photos provided by Henley Street show DeVirgilis in a variety of costumes).

In addition, the production kept a lot of the 80’s humor with references to Betamax, Geraldine Ferraro and Henry Kissinger. Unless licensing prohibited it; modernized references would have added to the appeal of the show to all ages.

Andrew Bonniwell’s lighting design added to both the mood of the scenes and the distinguishing between characters. James Ricks’ sound effects and music also enhanced the performance. DeVirgilis’ projection was sufficient without mic-ing to be heard throughout the show; but even she noted, at one point, the bleed over of bass from one of the neighboring theaters. I’m no architect, but I’m guessing it is hard to totally sound proof an old, large building like this.

By the end of the show, playwright Jane Wagner weaves the intricate lives of the various characters together into one shared and overlapping universe.

Also, in the end, the main character, Trudy the bag lady comments that a show is all about the audience. For the right audience, The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Universe can be an enjoyable evening of theater.

From the Director, Laine Satterfield

In the words of Trudy, the bag lady: “Everything is everything.” As Trudy’s creator, playwright Jane Wagner has woven together a beautiful tapestry of ideas with this collection of characters-people who search for the meaning of life through their stories and experiences. In Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, we get to experience the world through their eyes: their fears, hopes, passions, vulnerabilities, pain, happiness, and ultimately , their choices and the outcome of those choices. Through her characters, Wagner reminds us that humanity is fundamentally connected through these emotions and experiences, regardless of age, background, gender or belief systems. She even includes alien life forms in the mix.

This play explores what it means to be alive. It asks us to ask ourselves important questions. What is revolution? Where did we come from? How has our story shaped us? How does one define sanity? What is art? How can we, as a species, cultivate “more feeling, more forgiveness, more capacity for life”? When we look at the meaning of our lives and our connections to one another, we all, at some point, have asked these fundamental questions. Trudy gives us an answer: “It’s not so much about what we know, but how we know, and that’s what it is about us that needs to know.”

I want to thank Henley Street for producing this very relevant piece of theatre and the creative team behind it: Jessi, Jacquie, Andrew, and Holly. This play was first realized by Wagner’s partner, the incredible Lily Tomlin. We have Eva DiVirgils, whose amazing talent, diversity, diligence and love for storytelling not only made Wagner’s play come to life but has made the whole journey an absolute inspiration. “Every particle effects every other particle everywhere.” I hope this “particle” on this night leaves you with a goose-bump souvenir.

Photo Gallery

Photo 1 Photo 2

Photos provided by Henley Street Theatre

The Cast

  • Trudy and others: Eva DeVirgilis

The Crew

  • Director: Laine Satterfield
  • Stage Manager: Jessica Malicki
  • Stage Management Intern: Kennedy Lorenzen
  • Lighting Design: Andrew Bonniwell
  • Lighting Design Intern: Tessa Hoerst
  • Costume Design: Holly Sullivan
  • Sound Design: James Ricks
  • Artistic Director: James Ricks
  • Managing Director: Jacqueline O’Connor

Disclaimer: Henley Street Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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is by day a Special Education teacher, teaching History, Science and drama to Middle and High School students in a private Day School in Stafford. He has degrees in Educational Media and Special Education. He is also a part time Radio News Anchor and occasional actor in the Richmond area. Bruce is a native of New Jersey and spent most of his "adult" life in Upstate New York, where he started and ran a national award winning youth theater and cable television program for over 10 years. He has lived in Virginia since 2002, and in Caroline County since 2005, where he is active in many community groups; including serving on the Board of Caroline's Promise.

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