“If you spend too much time thinking about reality, you could go stark raving mad. Reality was too demanding. It expected me to be there all the time, and with all I have to do, I had to let something go. Now that I’ve put reality on the back burner, my days are jam-packed and fun-filled.” – Trudy
Dearest Ladies and Gentlemen allow me to introduce you to Trudy. A philosopher from New York, Trudy enjoys being outside, hanging out with friends, and acting in her spare time. Sound like a few people you might know? Well, what if I also told you she sleeps on the streets of NY, those friends are tiny aliens that sit on her shoulder, and her one woman sidewalk shows are actually conversations with just a fewvoices in her head…
The emboldened Trudy, along with 13 other characters from the mind of Jane Wagner, will be soon be given life by Eva DeVirgilis in the comedy Search for Intelligent Signs of Life in the Universe. DeVirgilis, herself a recent transplant from New York City, is thrilled to make her Richmond debut in Henley Street Theatre’s first production of Search for Signs.
“This is about how we all are alike, yet how we think we’re so different,” explains DeVirgilis. “Trudy, a bag lady, is the narrator and lifeline. She has a freedom about her because people call her crazy. She is free to say whatever the hell she wants. Her neurons are constantly firing, causing her to see all these different characters and people from all over the world.”
Originally made famous by Lily Tomlin in the eighties, this “single lady” comedy/drama by Jane Wagner has DeVirgilis portraying over a dozen distinct characters within 130 minutes. From a cocaine addicted health nut to a women’s movement activist from the seventies, DeVirgilis believes every character is still relevant in their own way.
“There’s a line that goes, ‘This is about moving the whole species forward, not just half of it,’” DeVirgilis states. “I’m speaking these words written decades ago that still bring meaning to today. We’ve already fought these fights concerning women’s issues. They’ve been embarrassed and humiliated. They’ve fought for us and bled for us, and now we’re back here again. It’s such a great reminder to speak about these women.”
Wagner, American writer/director and Tomlin’s life partner, discusses many social, cultural and life issues through scattered and scrambled truths. As an “outcast” for her own sexual orientation, Wagner uses hookers, addicts, and a homeless bag lady (to name a few) to show what it means to simply be human.
“This is a play where we’re all in this theatre together. Crying together. Laughing together- let’s hope!,” comments DeVirgilis. “That’s exactly what it’s about- being together as humans. We should be in awe of our abilities and capabilities. It all sounds very meta and lovey-dovey, but it’s truly what reality is when you begin to live in the moment.”
DeVirgilis warns those familiar with the original production that her own, at the Gottwald Theatre, will be a certain departure from Tomlin’s.
“I’ve never even seen Tomlin’s,” DeVirgilis confesses. ““I found a used copy of the script ten years ago, and have wanted to do it ever since. If someone is coming to see Lily, they’re going to be upset. I just wouldn’t be able to do it- that just came organically from her. I take what comes to me straight from the page, and go with it.”
DeVirgilis also revealed her top secret method for multiple character transitions. “I use this old school technique… memorization. I memorize like a machine,” laughs DeVirgilis. “I also take advice my wonderful acting mentor Vincent D’Onofrio once gave me. He used to say, ‘Eva, every show is an experiment. Every time you’re on stage is an experiment. Never think of anything as a neat performance tied up in a nice little bow.’ If I can accomplish that and experiment every night, then I’m discovering and learning right along with the audience.”