In The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, the 1985 play performed by Lily Tomlin and written by her longtime partner, Jane Wagner, Tomlin inhabits a host of female (and a few male) characters: Trudy the bag lady; prostitutes Brandy and Tina; socialite Kate; feminist Lyn; Agnus Angst, the troubled teen. But perhaps it is Trudy's monologue that sums up not just the female experience, but the human: "As soon as humankind began to discover the truth about itself, we began to find ways to cover up that truth."
In Marilyn French's afterword in the book version, she talks about how feminist art, at least then, had to belabor its points, had to "inform its audience that everything that exists is interconnected." She points out that Search was "the first work I know of that simply takes it as a given that a mass audience will accept feminist attitudes, that proceeds on the assumption that these attitudes are shared and that therefore does not lecture, hector or even underline."
The 73-year-old Tomlin has never had to lecture. From her start on Laugh- In in the early '70s, on through movie roles like Nashville, Short Cuts and 9 to 5, she has always inhabited her characters with grace and wit. Currently, she's inhabiting the role of mother: she's Lisa Kudrow's mom on the Showtime series Web Therapy, Reba McEntire's mom on Malibu Country, and Tina Fey's mom in the upcoming movie Admission, in which she plays a radical feminist who penned a fictional book called The Masculine Myth in the '60s, and now struggles with her daughter's relationship choices.
Tomlin will be swinging by the Winspear on Sunday, to perform a new one-woman show, filed with "characters, a lot of them,10 or more. And now I use video, to satirize myself or a situation in the world." More »