Cecily Strong’s “Search for Life” — A Love Letter to Humanity

On Jan. 27, I was able to score a $25 ticket to see Cecily Strong (from Saturday Night Live) perform in the 1987 one-woman show, “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.” The play, written by Jane Wagner, was originally performed by Lily Tomlin, and when it was announced last December that Strong was going to take on the iconic role, I knew I had to see it. 

Going into the performance, I had no idea what to expect. I had never seen a show featuring only one actor on stage for over an hour. To say the least, I was incredibly surprised. Strong owned the stage and had a presence that was mesmerizing to watch.

The 90-minute show follows a self-described “baglady” (another name for a homeless person) named Trudy, who explains to the audience that she is trying to present to aliens the very best and brightest of humanity. In doing so, she adopts several characters, including (but not limited to): a neurotic excerise queen, an irritated woman at the hair salon, a philosophical prostitute and an angsty teenager with a fascination for slam poetry. 

While the show was humorous in tone, there was an occasional dramatic shift that Strong was able to capture and convey to the audience. She performed each character with such depth and emotion and made the characters so personable and intriguing. It made you forget there were no other actors on stage. 

What was most remarkable was not only Strong’s ability to shift between characters and accents, but also her ability to give each character a heart and soul. For example, the entire second half of the show features Strong giving a condensed history of the feminist movement from the 1970s. She single handedly portrays a group of female friends advocating for the Equal Rights Amendment. Strong’s comedy skills no doubt shine through, but the true takeaway was her talent not letting the comedy overshadow the dramatic moments. The show touched on topics such as suicide, homophobia, rape and feminism. 

The Shed is a theater organization in Hudson Yards that focuses on giving a new voice to arts in New York City and I think this was an excellent show for them to open up with after COVID-19 shut down the theater in March 2020. The production, as a whole, was a love letter to humanity and its resilience. Even though it was written in 1987, it seemed fresh and progressive. While it can be alarming to think that nothing has changed between then and now, it’s comforting to know that the arts will always be a beacon of hope and creativity in times of darkness and despair. 

It sounds cliche, but I left the theater feeling like a different person with a new outlook on life, and truly that’s how I knew I had a great time. Through these characters, the show makes you appreciate the mundaneness of human life and that no matter how simple life may seem, everything has a greater meaning. Theater is supposed to transport you from reality and let you glimpse at how the world can be or the different person you could become. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to see this production and I hope theater in New York will continue to shine a light on whatever dark days are ahead.