Ahmanson Theatre

Buber said if we, humankind, or any representative thereof, were able to understand a grain of wheat and all that is in it, we (or he) would simply die of wonderment. Pause. Laughter.

The quote is more succinctly put, the laughter more gustful, in Jane Wagner’s play The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe and Lily Tomlin’s performance of it. That’s a key phrase, Buber only knows (or you) if he said it.

“What’s the point of being a hedonist if you’re not having a good time?” The collapsing galaxies of an expanding universe.

Why not “the survival of the wittiest”? “At least the ones who didn’t make it would have died laughing.”

Power dressing is something that requires a real intellectual power to unmask. It’s something that’s neither a scarf, nor a ruffle, nor a tie, “but it’s non-threatening because you don’t look good when you’re wearing it.”

This sets the seal on a long, brilliant, second-act set piece about the undyed roots of Yuppiedom. “It’s hard to be politically conscious and upwardly mobile at the same time.”

All these characters crisscross in the fabric of the play, so that Chrissy, the L.A. twit whose famous line is “I always wanted to be somebody—now I see I should have been more specific,” is, or was, working for the consciousness-raising libber turned power dresser whose wisecracking friend hanged herself from a macramé planter after being raped.

Trudy is nuts and out of work, home, etc. The trouble with pantyhose, she says, is “when you wear ‘em the way I like ‘em, down around the ankles, it’s hard to walk.” But “it’s a look.”

The sperm bank is an object of wonderment in that it gives rise to speculations of “Nobel Prizewinners sitting around looking at pornography and masturbating.” Later on, in the locker room of the same health club frequented by Chrissy, we have the narrative of Paul’s “orgasm in a turkey baster” at the behest of two lesbians, and the appearance afterward of a sublime violinist with Paul’s Bowie eyes (“Come on, you never noticed?”), seen on television.

The two lesbians are mirrored by the two hookers getting interviewed by another bore (“the last one was more interesting—an interview and a blowjob”), who conclude the book ought to say, “written by him, but lived by us.”

Trudy is confused by Warhol’s soup cans. Handy-dandy, which is soup, which is art? Her “space chums” (George Rickey’s phrase), who are on a mission described in the play’s title, go to see a play to learn what goose bumps are. “The play was soup, but the audience was art.”

Shaw’s unforgettable description of Eleonora Duse was inspired by the actress who convinced him of her art (he went twice, to be sure). Her magisterial tones (Lily Tomlin’s, I mean) in various registers as remote as you please, dancing, skipping, rolling, flexing, all alone in a mesh of delicate sound effects and lighting cues, are so pleasant on the ears one could listen to these stories for years and be entertained, as many could bear witness who laughed and laughed with nearly as much energy as Lily Tomlin on stage.


America’s madness, the New World Order, is securely at home in the Music Center Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County.

It started with A Patriot for Me at the Ahmanson, which had cards put up in the lobby disavowing the play’s anti-Semitic content (the psychiatrist did not appear) as purely fictional and belonging to the characters in the play who utter it.

Computer printouts began to appear taped to theater bars bearing the words of the government’s alcohol warning label.

Now, in the Ahmanson box office window is an advertisement for a new play with a small notice that “tobacco or tobacco products” figure in the production.

In the program there is a warning notice: “Please note that strobe lighting and fog effects are used in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.”

This too shall pass. In the meantime, we can admire the very costly and very silly makeover given to the Ahmanson, right across the street from Our Lady of the Angels, where the windows of unstained glass lit from within at night look less like a bank, as in the old joke about modern churches, than an office building.