TAMPA — There's a touching meta-theatrical moment in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe when Jonelle M. Meyer's character takes a pause in her maniacal monologue to say to the audience, "I worry that you think I'm not as good as Lily Tomlin."
Meyer doesn't have to worry. Sure, many people will have seen Tomlin in this one-woman play, a hybrid of performance art, comedy and theater, and she was great. But Jane Wagner's brilliantly witty script is in good hands with Meyer's inspired performance at Gorilla Theatre.
As Trudy, a bag lady in touch with aliens from outer space ("my space chums"), Meyer is a twisted, muckle-mouthed virtuoso of the lightning-quick insight ("See, the human brain is kind of like a pinata"), consummate one-liners ("I have gained and lost the same 10 pounds so many times over and over again my cellulite must have deja vu") and insult ("Look at me, you mammalian-brained LUNKHEADS!").
Search for Signs was developed by Wagner and Tomlin almost 30 years ago, and it's uncanny how well their stream-of-consciousness rant holds up. Trudy's fast-paced soliloquy flickers in and out of characters that range from an angst-ridden 15-year-old girl to a "health nut by day (and) coke head at night" to a pair of prostitutes, all ingeniously linked together.
The production, directed and designed by Christopher Rutherford, has some nice touches, such as the quarter moon, colored lights, poetic Post-it notes and umbrellas (Trudy invented the umbrella hat) that serve as props and scenery.
It's fitting that Gorilla's longtime venue in quirky old Drew Park — home of muffler and tire shops, a porn playhouse (frequently mistaken for Gorilla by newcomers to the theater) and fortune tellers — is having a farewell party with Meyer's loopy, delightful tour de force.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.