The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe Themes

Jane Wagner

Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe takes up themes of the interconnectedness of people and of people’s methods for finding meaning in lives that sometimes seem absurd. Since the panoply of characters whose thoughts Trudy transmits exemplifies a range of race, class, and even gender, the play suggests that a common search for meaning links humanity at its core.

The play’s allusions to the performance of the play itself allow Jane Wagner to suggest that the ritual of attending and performing theater creates a site for such linkages to occur. The play’s theatricality, and the fact that all of its characters are performed by the same actor (Lily Tomlin in the first production), stresses universal human connections.

The play is feminist in tone, particularly in part 2, which focuses on a moment in American history through the lens of contemporary feminism. Wagner’s humor, however, gives the play a bittersweet irony and optimism and avoids didacticism. Her perspective centers on women’s experience, but her aim is toward the universal. Trudy’s good humor and eccentric observations about reality provide Wagner’s commentary on life’s absurdities and balance the bleaker alienation of characters such as Agnus Angst, Kate, Chrissy, and Marge. Trudy is a Cassandra-like visionary, of the sort “who has flashes of insight but can’t get anyone to listen to ’em ’ cause their insights make ’em sound so...

(The entire section is 497 words.)