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THEATER

Two characters in search of an author

May 18, 2003|Jane Wagner | Special to The Times

Sighting: Downtown L.A., at the Ahmanson Theatre.

It's a bright, summery Southern California kind of day, the kind of day that makes most of us long to be outside in the sunlight. A banner is being placed by the stage door. It reads: "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe."

Inside the theater, a rehearsal is in progress. Lighting designer Ken Billington, author-director Jane Wagner, producer Janet Beroza and sound engineer Candice Nelms are in the midst of a tech rehearsal: No one here cares about missing the sunlight. They only care about the stage lights, which are being quite temperamental at the moment.

On stage, we see a lone figure looking vulnerable in the semi-darkness. This is Lily Tomlin, Archetype of the Aging Actress and star of "The Search."

Lily (exasperated): Look, Trudy has to look like a real street person, yet be ethereal, magical, too. I hate this cue!

Ken: The cue's not the problem.

Jane: It's the effect itself.

Lily: The "moon effect," what's wrong?

Janet: It doesn't look like a moon.

Jane: It looks like nothing in our entire solar system.

Ken shoots them both a look.

Ken: We're working with new equipment, doing some cutting-edge stuff here.

Lily: How about the new traffic lights for Trudy? How does that look?

Jane (hesitates to tell her): Well, the lighting itself is beautiful, but ...

Lily: But what?

Jane: You don't look like Trudy, a street person, you look like Glenn Close in "Sunset Boulevard." It's too eerie.

Ken: I was going for "eerie." I thought you said "eerie."

Jane: Moody, not "eerie." Remember "Glass Menagerie" and Tom goes out on the balcony after Amanda says, "Go then, go to the moon." And Tom leaves for good and says, "I didn't go to the moon, I went much further. For time is the greatest distance between two points." I can still see that moon effect.

Ken: Yeah, it was eerie!

Lily (sharply): The sound was off, too. You can have the best traffic lights in the world, but it won't seem like traffic without traffic sounds.

Jane and Janet both snap back: We know that!

Lily: Where is Candice?

Janet: Out in the traffic, collecting some new traffic sounds.

Lily (to Jane): When Trudy talks to the hookers, how does that look?

Jane (squinting): It's hard to tell in this light. Look, do you need a break?

Lily (flatly): No!

Jane: Well, I do.

The Diva Devil has erupted as Lily pointedly stomps off stage.

Outside the Ahmanson, we see a trollish figure waiting by the stage door. Her body language reminds us of the streetperson Lily was just doing on stage. Only this street person is for real -- this is Trudy, time-traveling trickster, psycho historian, creative consultant for extraterrestrials, New Age Nasrudin and Archetype of the Wise Fool.

The stage door opens and Lily bounds out. She blinks at the sunlight and fumbles for her sunglasses, standing by the poster for which she is the poster child.

Her pupils adjust and suddenly she sees Trudy beside her.

Lily (lights up): Trudy, you old prankster, what are you doing here?

Trudy (points to the poster): Heard you're doing your one-human show, thought maybe you might need me. I've got some new insights into humanity.

Lily (heads to car): Still on your interplanetary fact-finding mission?

Trudy: It's what I'm good at, Lil.

Lily (fumbles for keys): You should see how I play you now, Trudy. I've really essenced you down. I'm more subtle.

Trudy: Good. Sometimes I'd watch you up there on stage and think, "Am I that broad?"

Lily (laughs): And that scene where I do you standing in the rain and traffic ...

Trudy: ... and I talk about being in awe of everything?

Lily: Now we may have a moon, too. (Crosses her fingers.) I hope. (Still can't find her keys.) How long you plan to stay in L.A.?

Trudy: Long time, I hope. Of all the places I've time-traveled to, Hollywood's the quintessential parallel universe. Everything I need for my research is right here. The entire L.A. Basin is like a giant petri dish. I feel most at home in Hollywood; ordinary reality seems less ordinary here. And that's a big plus!

Lily finally finds her keys. She also finds she's been given a ticket; could this day get any worse?

Lily: Looks like you have a lot on your plate. So do I, I'm afraid.

Trudy: Don't go.

Lily: Trudy, I've got a fitting with Peter Cohen, Pilates, lunch with my agent, Scott Henderson, DiFabrizio is making me new shoes

Trudy: To disguise your bunions, I bet ....

Lily (doesn't care to talk about it): Then I've got a feng shui hair consultation....I know, sounds trendy, but I've got to do something with my hair; I'm doing an "on the town" photo shoot with the L.A. Times and ...

Trudy: Try to shoehorn me in, Lil. I can help you scope out some photo ops for the shoot. I've been sitting on that park bench way too long. Stay too long on these benches, you get pains in your hip. Do you have a spare Percodan?

Lily (softens): C'mon. You look hungry. What about Clifton's Cafeteria?

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