“She’s an amazing chameleon who can do anything,” said actor, director and owner of Mid-City Theatre Fred Nuccio. “She can sink her teeth into a part and tear your heart out or bring tears of laughter to your eyes with her comedy. She’s simply one of the best actresses in the city.”
Nuccio is talking about four-time Big Easy award-winning actress Yvette Hargis, who stars in “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” opening May 28 at Mid-City Theatre.
Jane Wagner’s one-woman play, written for her longtime partner Lily Tomlin, was first performed in 1985 and again for a revival in 2000.
The original production had a strong run on Broadway and toured everywhere, the published script made The New York Times best-seller list and a movie was even made of the show.
For those not familiar with “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” the first thing to know is that it’s not a one-person stand-up performance.
It’s a complete, hilarious and sometimes powerful play that looks at the lives and times of a dozen characters with commentary on topics such as women’s liberation, the sexual revolution, political commitment, consumerism and cheating husbands.
The cast is an endearing collection of misfits and grouches and includes such characters as a 15-year-old angry punk rocker, a rich lonely woman, two Eighth Avenue hookers who are tired of being interviewed for graduate papers, an egoistic Brooklyn bodybuilder and three friends from the early days of the women’s movement who struggled together through the challenges of dating, marriage, their careers and child-rearing.
Perhaps the most lovable character in the play is Trudy, a bag lady who after way too many shock treatments is left with a quirky and uncanny “hook-up to humanity.”
She plays host to a few visiting aliens who are fascinated by such things as the difference between Campbell’s soup and Warhol’s artistic depiction of it, and she connects the other characters to one another.
The show came about a few weeks ago, when Hargis and Nuccio were sitting around talking about what they could do together. When Hargis suggested “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” the duo knew instantly that it was the perfect choice.
Hargis performed this show 20 years ago at the legendary True Brew Theatre. It was directed by Ricky Graham, with whom she’s had a long-term and highly successful relationship, appearing in many of his productions such as the perennial favorite “And the Ball and All.”
This time around Nuccio is directing, and he freely admits he’s going to employ many of Graham’s brilliant touches.
But he’s also made changes to the structure of the play, eliminating some dated elements.
Hargis is not from some fancy school of drama, and she’s not a classically trained actress. But since 1990, and after appearing in more than 50 plays, she’s truly honed her craft with on-the-job-training.
“I love theater, and I love New Orleans,” she said. “This is what I live for, and being on stage is where I feel I most belong. I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
Hargis is thrilled that she remembers many of her lines from 20 years ago and is excited about bringing all these characters to life again.
Nuccio predicts that this play will have a great run at his intimate neighborhood theater.
“Come in and forget the world for a while,” he said. “Come to have a good time and experience and enjoy everything Yvette has to offer you.”