The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First produced: 1985, at the Plymouth Theatre, New York City

First published: 1986

Type of work: Play

Type of plot: Comedy

Time of work: The 1980’s, with flashbacks to the 1970’s

Locale: Los Angeles and New York

Characters DiscussedLily

Lily, Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, Thethe actress (that is, Lily Tomlin, for whom the play was written). Addressing the audience directly, with respect and gratitude, Lily wonders and worries about the quirks of modern life.


Trudy, a New York City bag lady. Trudy has been certified as “crazy” and is proud of it. She communicates directly with aliens, whom she calls her “space chums,” helping them to evaluate the signs of intelligent life on earth. She is carefree and playful, with a deep sense of irony. Survival on the streets has sharpened her perceptions and blunted her sensibilities: She unabashedly acknowledges the vulgar realities of urban life and confronts anyone who gets in her way. Trudy ranges the streets, talking to Tina and Brandy or organizing the paradoxical scientific data she records on Post-it notes. While penetrating society’s delusions and questioning its idiocy, Trudy is beyond searching for answers or meaning; she simply loves the mystery.

Judith Beasley

Judith Beasley, a suburban housewife who once sold Tupperware products but recently discovered sexual freedom and now markets erotic products that guarantee orgasms for suburban housewives.


Chrissy, an unskilled but energetic aerobics fanatic. Chrissy is a jumble of conflicts and rationalizations. Virtually unemployable, obsessively self-aware, and potentially suicidal, she is searching for easy answers to all of her problems and finds false hope in ironic sayings, conventional wisdom, and self-help formulas.


Paul, a young divorcé. Between sex, drugs, and bodybuilding, Paul is tired of living on thrills. He philandered and ruined his marriage, and now he misses his son. Paul has difficulty adapting to modern mores.


Kate, a rich and beautiful socialite. Kate is bored–with her husband, her boyfriend, and her entire life. Obsessed with appearances, she needs to be in control and demands attention. A stranger’s (Chrissy’s) suicide note, a violin concert by a teenage virtuoso, and a moment of joyful understanding anonymously shared with Trudy, Tina, and Brandy combine to reawaken Kate’s awe for life.

Agnus Angst

Agnus Angst, a punk rocker. Agnus is an angry teenager ready to fight for both strong leftist politics and petty personal grievances. Exiled from her father’s house and abandoned by her globetrotting performance-artist mother, Agnus flees to her grandparents. She expresses her detachment, contempt, and alienation in the fevered outpourings of her own performance art. She desperately longs not to care; her tragedy is that she cares too deeply.


Lud and


Marie, Agnus’ grandparents. Lud and Marie are an old-fashioned suburban couple who bicker endlessly and cannot begin to understand their radical granddaughter.


Tina and


Brandy, Times Square prostitutes and Trudy’s friends. Tina and Brandy are strong, brassy women of the street who take pride in their lives and have compassion for the suffering of others.


Lyn, a Los Angeles divorcée. Lyn’s personal history includes the women’s rights movement in the 1970’s, a lesbian relationship with Janet (Agnus’ mother), participation in numerous self-help programs, marriage to Bob, the birth of devilish twin sons, a promising position in public relations, and, finally, a career change and a divorce. Lyn lacks direction and searches everywhere for security and fulfillment. She finds in Bob the perfect mate but has no time for him. She has professional aspirations but finds her job frustrating and unsatisfying. Having worked all of her life to “have it all,” Lyn finds that it is all too much. She ends up holding a big yard sale, appraising and selling the mementos of her life.


Bob, Lyn’s husband. A modern man, Bob reconciles capitalism with a holistic lifestyle by marketing New Age products. He attends myriad seminars and classes, including male sensitivity training and aikido, where he has an affair that ends his marriage.


Marge, a plant store owner. Marge is a tasteful, fashionable woman whose feminism seems less committed than Lyn’s and Edie’s. Striving for propriety and perfection, she goes through a series of unhealthy romances. One of her disco affairs was with Paul, whom she persuaded to provide the sperm for Edie and Pam’s child. Marge becomes an alcoholic, suffers a traumatic rape, and finally, desperately, hangs herself from a macramé planter.


Edie, a left-wing journalist. Edie is a lesbian happily married to Pam, with whom she has a son, Ivan, a violin prodigy. The most radical among her friends, Edie has a strong identity and a healthy sense of humor about herself. She hates pretensions, though she can be trendy in her radicalism. Outspoken, skeptical, critical, and even vindictive at times, Edie openly expresses her needs and feelings.


Pam, Edie’s lover, a psychologist who leads male sensitivity seminars.

Sources for Further StudyGill, Brendan. Review in The New Yorker, October 7, 1985, 109.Henry, William A. Review in Time, October 7, 1985, 68.Merrill, Lisa. Review in Women and Performance 10, no. 1 (1986): 97-99.Rafferty, Tim. Review in The New Yorker 67 (October 7, 1991): 102.Raven, Arlene. “Crossing Over.” In Crossing Over: Feminism and Art of Social Concern. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Research Press, 1988.Vilanch, Bruce. “Earth to Lily.” Interview 18 (May, 1988): 52-59.
Categories: Characters