Lily Tomlin is Extraordinary
By Terry Fisher
… Then her characters swiftly unfold. Foremost is Trudy, a bag lady on the streets of New York who is awaiting the arrival of aliens from outer space. They are searching for intelligent life on our planet, and Trudy is their “creative consultant.” She imparts her well-considered gems of wisdom: Evolution works on the Peter Principle. The first time we learned to laugh at ourselves was right after the first time we made an ass of ourselves. “We developed language because of our deep inner need to complain.” This need to gossip and to criticize others behind their backs had led to paranoia -war -stress.
We quickly get the feeling this bag lady knows substantially more than we will ever learn about life, intelligent or otherwise.
By Act Two, she hits us with the astounding line, “You’d think by now evolution could have at least evolved us to the place where we could change ourselves.”
Trudy segues in and out of other characters: Agnus (with a “u”) Angst a pink-haired punk teenager, isolated and alienated from fife, who has been locked out of the house by her father and stepmother. Anger flows from her like a charge of electricity.
Lud and Marie – Agnus’ grandparents, twangy and bickering. They don’t know what to make of her- necklace (a reflective flea collar) and think they can cheer her with chocolate milk mustaches as they did when she was a child.
Brandy and Tina – two prostitutes who talk on the record for a writer researching a book.
Finally, in Wagner’s most developed and astonishingly perceptive piece, is Lyn, aided by friends Edie and Marge. Lynn goes through an entire life cycle as a 70’s feminist who then latches on to the human potential movement and emerges as a product of the stress-laden ’80s — grappling with husband Bob (who wants to be a holistic capitalist), twin boys, career and the burden of being all things to all people, including herself. This extended segment can easily stand as a separate work and is stunning in its impact. As Tomlin moves seamlessly from event to event we are left breathless by the depth and range of her artistry.
The lives of all these people cross ever so gently, a statement in itself of how we affect and are affected by others in chain reaction fashion. We finally return to Trudy the bag lady, who lovingly hits us in the gut with her answer to the meaning of life – so profound in its simplicity that it must be heard from Trudy’s lips and not revealed here.