With Dolores Hydock on stage, `Search' turns up excellent show
5 out of 5 stars -- review by Mary Colurso, staff writer and arts reviewer, The Birmingham News
If you see "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe" at Terrific New Theater, you just might forget that Dolores Hydock is the only person on stage.
What higher compliment can be paid to an actress who takes on Jane Wagner's mercurial one-woman show?
Oh, we might say that she's better than Lily Tomlin, who originated the role on Broadway.
But that would be rather silly praise. Lily is Lily. Dolores is Dolores. Each brings her own style and sensibility to the script, interpreting the words in subtle and personal ways.
Better to say that Dolores Hydock handles this complex material so well, audience members aren't compelled to wonder how Lily Tomlin did it. Nor do they long for an ensemble when a single player has the power to transform herself into at least 13 characters.
Hydock never misses a beat as she introduces Trudy, a New York bag lady who's wise in her insanity. Shock therapy has convinced Trudy that she can communicate with space aliens who are studying our planet and its inhabitants, trying to decipher the meaning of life.
A discarded umbrella hat becomes Trudy's psycho transmitter, allowing her to leap from sketch to sketch, character to character. Hydock grabs onto Wagner's premise with comic grace, changing with quicksilver fluidity.
Furious teenager from a broken home. Haughty rich witch who's bored by privilege. Motor-mouthed secretary at an aerobics class. Elderly couple, squabbling in front of the TV set.
Hydock brings these people - and more - to life in an elemental way, using only her voice and body movements. Costumes or props? She doesn't need 'em.
All that's required is effective lighting, a bench, a few sound cues and a savvy director (TNT founder Carl Stewart).
Don't imagine for a second that "The Search for Signs" is a disconnected affair; Wagner's script is marvelously funny, thoughtful and well-constructed. The playwright forges links between characters that are revealed slowly throughout the plot, bringing the chain full circle at the end.
Applaud Wagner as you cheer for Hydock, then, because each woman is equally important to this splendid evening of theater.