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Crew helps make ‘Search for Intelligent Life’ a success - Ocean City Sentinel: Entertainment

Crew helps make ‘Search for Intelligent Life’ a success

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Posted: Thursday, August 13, 2015 12:39 pm

CAPE MAY — The opening night of “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” was sold out at Cape May Stage, and the audience was not disappointed. The play proved to be timeless. Director Roy Steinberg added his own up-to-date touches and Tricia Alexandro delivered a stellar performance. 

In the one-woman show, Alexandro transforms herself into nine characters — often in very quick succession. She differentiates them by using different voices, accents and motions. First she appears on stage as Trudy, a bag lady who talks to aliens, or “space chums.” She reports what they say to the audience, which laughs at her and with her as she takes them on a journey to discover the meaning of life and art.

The characters are sad, eccentric and provocative; they include two prostitutes, a socialite who has it all and a runaway teenager who has nothing. They give voice to social and political issues that ring as true as they did in the 1980s, when the play was written by Jane Wagner and performed on Broadway by Lily Tomlin. 

For every successful show, there is a team of professionals and interns working behind the scenes in creative, financial and production positions. 

“In a small theater, everyone wears a lot of hats” — and they all get the coffee — production stage manager Cara M. Anderson said.

Assistant Stage Manager Patrick Mathis is also in charge of the sound and projection design. 

“I enjoy being a part of a team that provides structure and facilitates creativity. Stage management is managing people,” he said.

“The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe” is the third show of the season and the second with only one actor. 

“The process is very much the same when it’s one person or many, like ‘Mary, Mary.’ The difference is that with one actor you are more focused, and that can lead to great ideas. It was really exciting to see all the characters come to life as Tricia rehearsed,” Anderson said.

She said it is her responsibility “to write down everything, to notate what is going on, to wrap myself in the artistic vision of the show, and to help the actor get to know her lines and blocking. Next we work on the technical process: lighting, projection, cueing.”

Mathis said “The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe” is the most technically advanced show Cape May Stage has ever done. 

“‘Mary, Mary’ was easier despite having a larger cast. The sound was door bells, slamming doors — just setting up hot keys,” Mathis said. “In ‘The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe,’ the premise of the play is that she’s turning into different people in different settings, going into a back alley or a hair salon. That required us to use more projection because we created the scenes behind her. It was not just still images, but animation, too. We project onto panels floating in the air and each panel is treated like a window.”

Mathis said it required some technical maneuvering.

“We upgraded the computer, found software and learned how to use it,” he said.

The result was visually stunning and the projection was flawless.  

Once a show opens, the play is what actors and directors describe as “frozen.” Changes are no longer made; the director steps aside and the stage manager steps in. 

“Now my job is to protect the integrity of the show from the first performance to the last,” Anderson said.

The costuming for this play is deceiving simply because there is one character and one costume change. The show opens with Trudy, the bag lady, coming on stage. 

“I had to create a costume for Trudy. I started with what was in the script like the umbrella hat. Then started to think about the bag people and what they wear,” costume designer Cheryl Patton Wu said. “I gave her a shirt worn inside out that turns into a cape, and a watch that was duct-taped together. Next I had to create the base costume Tricia wears throughout the show. I chose a black jumpsuit that would allow her to move freely and allow her to be any of the personalities.”  

Wu spoke about the challenge of working for a small theater. 

“Today money is always a problem. I found that I can shop at thrift stores. I can repurpose and adapt the clothes that I find to fit any character or time period,” she said.

Literally and figuratively, the spotlight is on the actor, but the success of the opening night was the result of Alexandro’s performance and the team behind the light.

Heather Turner, who is a member of the Cape May Stage Board of Trustees, summed up the show. 

“There was so much laughter and spontaneous applause I think I missed some of the nuances and one-liners. I want to see it again,” she said.

She’s not alone. You will want to see it at least once for an evening that will make you laugh and will later make you think about the truth. 

The show runs Tuesday to Sunday through Sept. 4 at the Robert Shackleton Playhouse. For tickets, call (609) 770-8311 or visit capemaystage.org.

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