The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe

Tomlin and Wagner Theatricalz present Lily Tomlin in
a kate west review
Produced by Lily Tomlin, Directed by Jane Wagner
Running May 13 – July 6, 2003

In association with The Seattle Repertory Theatre and McCarter Theatre Center, now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre at the Los Angeles Music Center (Gordon Davidson, Artistic Director/Producer, Charles Dillingham, Managing Director, Center Theater Group/Ahmanson Theatre).

Lily Tomlin once again proves herself to be one of the wittiest and most versatile comedic performers today. In the recent revival of “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, she and writer/director Jane Wagner create a delicious smorgasbord variety of delightful characters ranging from Trudy, the bag lady who communes with extraterrestrials to Agnus Angst, the rebellious pink-haired punk rocker teenager. She portrays prostitutes, society ladies, feminists and even men. Each of her personas is fully articulated and funny as hell. Although the material is at times a bit dated, we relish the unfolding of plot and mayhem with each story and the clever way every character is connected with each other. Most of the stories had the audience howling with laughter but sometimes there are poignantly dramatic moments which left us deeply moved.

The night I attended, billed as opening night, the audience was fairly throbbing with excitement and anticipation and many celebrities were in sight. I knew it was a special evening when Tomlin broke character after a short coughing spell, delighting the audience with her ad-libs. Her incredible stamina in sustaining several high energy characters was wonderful to watch. She is a true professional and her performance truly inspired. The show was about two hours long with the intermission but I was sure left wanting more.

I also need to mention the amazing technical crew, especially the sound designers, Tom Clark and Mark Bennett. Tomlin uses no props and makes no costume or set changes and yet we are awestruck by the reality of each character’s atmosphere. When she mimes pulling tissues out of a box, the sound is perfectly synchronized as it is when she is putting on mascara, zipping up her punk rock “costume,” answering the phone, opening and closing a sensory deprivation tank, and on and on.

No wonder the show has always been such a hit, was also nominated for Best Revival of a Play on Broadway and the hardcover edition of the play stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for months (the first play in 20 years to earn that distinction). This is a definite must must must see. Kudos to Gordon Davidson, Artistic Director/Producer of the Center Theatre Group, for having the foresight to share this production with Los Angeles. Read more!

Culture Clash Chavez Ravine

a kate west review
Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, May 17 - July 6, 2003, (213) 972-7376
Directed by Lisa Peterson,
Company: Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, Eileen Galindo, Herbert Siguenza, John Avila, Randy Rodarte, Scott Rodarte

For almost twenty years, the "premiere Chicano comedy troupe" known as Culture Clash has performed their remarkable sketch comedy around the country, including creating the first Latino-themed sketch comedy television show for Fox T.V.
Their latest accomplishment, the world premiere play "Chavez Ravine," tells the story of the 1940's - 50's controversial land development deal on an area called Chavez Ravine by locals in Los Angeles. Each historical character is depicted with the group's now characteristic comedic precision and zeal. This is rendered all the more authentic with excellent set (Rachel Hauck) and costume (Christopher Acebo) design, the stage itself a stylized baseball diamond with large panels that portray various moments in Chavez Ravine history.

At the top of the play, Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully (the superbly talented Richard Montoya) introduces the new rookie Mexican pitcher Fernando Valenzuela (a dead-on impersonation by Herbert Siguenza) who, in this production, symbolizes the culmination of local Chicano pride after several decades' long struggle. Through clever flashbacks, a story of betrayal, cynicism and greed unfolds as the Los Angeles City Housing Authority decides to build subsidized low income housing in Chavez Ravine. The newly elected Los Angeles Mayor, Norris Paulson (delightfully clueless Ric Salinas), succumbs to the sinister public figures who coerce him to cancel the housing project leaving the local immigrants homeless. Although the people revolt, including poet Manazar (Herbert Siguenza) and an activist named Maria (sweetly portrayed by Eileen Galinda), industry and progress march on and the people are torn from their homes and eventually the Brooklyn Dodgers take over Chavez Ravine and become the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Because the Culture Clash members are such accomplished story-tellers, each plotline is poignantly clear and one character is more enchanting than the next. Particularly amusing are Richard Montoya and Ric Salinas as the famous comedy duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, recreating the wonderfully timeless "Who's On First" routine. They get so frustrated with each other at one point that they burst into a Spanish version! Hilarious. There is also a "seventh inning stretch" when the entire cast comes out and sings "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and encourages the audience to sing-along while throwing bags of peanuts about the auditorium.

Although the play is rife with "chicano-isms" and local inside jokes (Artistic Director Gordon Davidson is depicted at one point), you don't have to be familiar with local Los Angeles history or understand Spanish to enjoy this engaging production. Culture Clash is comprised of talented, funny, savvy individuals with the ability to transcend time and culture. It makes for a wonderful evening and along with stories skillfully depicted with humor, joy, compassion and pathos; you'll also get a free history lesson. Highly, highly recommended. Read more!