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Review Roundup: Cecily Strong Stars in THE SEARCH FOR SIGNS OF INTELLIGENT LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE at The Shed

This award winning, timely one-woman play The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe explores American society, art, power, and the feminist movement.

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe

The Shed presents a newly commissioned production of The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, freshly revisited by playwright Jane Wagner. Tony nominated director Leigh Silverman (Lifespan of a Fact, Violet) stages the iconic play starring Cecily Strong (Saturday Night Live, Schmigadoon!) in her theatrical debut.

Performances begin on December 21, 2021 and opening night is January 11, 2022 at the Shed's intimate 500-seat Griffin Theater (545 West 30th Street). This is a limited run through February 6, 2022.

This award winning, timely one-woman play The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe explores American society, art, power, and the feminist movement through a comedic and quick-witted investigation.

The creative team includes Christine Jones and Mary Hamrick (Co-Set Design), Anita Yavich (Costume Design), Stacey Derosier (Lighting Design), Elisheba Ittoop (Sound Designer/Composer), Justin Scribner (Production Stage Manager). Lily Tomlin, who originated the role, serves as executive producer with Wagner.

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe won the 1986 New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience. The play moved to Broadway in 1985, where Ms. Tomlin won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play.

Tickets for The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe are available at theshed.org


Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: Cecily Strong is a sketch comedian of the first order, as she has proved in a decade of excellent work on Saturday Night Live, and it's easy to imagine her shining in a solo show designed around her talents. But in her New York stage debut in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, she's in someone else's tailored suit. This mostly comedic multicharacter showcase was created by Jane Wagner in 1985 for her longtime partner, the brilliant Lily Tomlin, who performed it to hosannas on Broadway and beyond. Some of the material now seems worn, though, and on Strong it doesn't quite fit, at least not yet; it's baggy in some places, squeezy in others, and it rarely looks very comfortable.

Greg Evans, Deadline: Performed on a mostly bare stage, with flashes of light and static sound effects signaling Strong's zaps from one character to another, The Search... relies in large part on the performer's versatility, and in that Strong does not disappoint. She doesn't have Tomlin's genius for vocal dexterity - who does? - but she's a fine actress, delineating each character gracefully and convincingly. The costume design by Anita Yavich, with one or two key, if small, garment changes aiding in the character definitions, fails only once: Teenage punk goddess Agnus Angst would sneer in disgust at the uncool harness of day-glo party-sticks she's strapped into.

Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: Ask any theater lover what she missed during the 2020-2021 shutdown and the answer probably isn't any particular show, song, or performer. In all likelihood, it's the experience: "a group of strangers sitting together in the dark, laughing the crying about the same things," as Trudy (played by Cecily Strong) says in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, now at The Shed off-Broadway. Jane Wagner may have written that line nearly 40 years ago-when the one-woman show was first performed so memorably by Lily Tomlin-but never have the words been truer, or more deeply felt.

David Cote, Observer: After a decade on SNL, Strong has honed the skills that make her such an appealing and gutsy comedian. Her forte is the absurdly assured lady who refuses to let anything get in the way of making her unhinged point. At the same time, in that recent fusillade of bonbons, Schmigadoon!, Strong got to show her sensitive, romantic side as a modern woman trapped in a world of musical-theater clichés. Brashness and vulnerability are key ingredients in Strong's very winning and limber performance. In an eyeblink she pivots from homeless, garbage-collecting savant Trudy (tour guide for a bunch of Earth-curious extraterrestrials), to a punk-rock teen and a dozen other men and women trying to find happiness or sense on this complicated blue ball.

Matt Windman, amNY: While one can appreciate Strong's enthusiasm and energy, she does not possess the heightened individuality, whimsicality, and physicality (as demonstrated by Tomlin in the film version, which can be found on YouTube) in order to pull off this very challenging and demanding piece, which requires switching back and forth between a dozen characters. Due to a lack of precision, it is occasionally difficult to follow the show or figure out who she is playing.

Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater: It might be too much to call Strong the Lily Tomlin of her generation, but her ten-year tenure on Saturday Night Live has generated many savage celebrity impersonations - Jeanine Pirro comes to mind - and some memorable original characters, most recently "Goober the Clown Who Had An Abortion When She Was 23," who, while twirling her bowtie, squirting water out of her lapel, and honking a toy horn, makes a pointed pro-choice argument. It's therefore something of a surprise that the production didn't strike me as a great showcase for Strong's talents. She's toned down the wackiness of her SNL skits, as if she's trying hard, in her New York stage debut, to measure up to the material and to Tomlin's legacy, rather than making the characters her own. She didn't seem to be enjoying herself very much. Still, Strong is a competent enough actress and comedienne to make the case for the continued effectiveness of Wagner's play, which is craftier than simply an entertaining collection of disparate, sometimes desperate characters.

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