A Lot of Woman
Lily Tomlin’s solo show features a huge cast of characters.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Edith Ann is 5 years old. Her feet flail as she slides back and forth in a massive wooden rocking chair. She pulls at her shoelaces as she rambles on in a stuffed-up, snotty tenor, about everything from sandwich experiences gone wrong to dog grooming experiences gone terribly wrong.
“I don’t usually get a cold,” she says as she licks her lips, “I have leprosy.”
Edith Ann is cute and shy, but some of her tales border on sociopathic. “I have a baby brother but we don’t like him so we’re trying to get rid of him,” she says. “He has a soft spot on his head so I took a ballpoint pen and drew an ‘X’ on it so I wouldn’t forget.
“And that’s the truth.”
Ernestine, much older and somewhat wiser, is a telephone operator with a jet black bouffant. Her smile has turned sour after years of answering switchboards. “Go look it up yourself,” she snarls to a caller, “I’ve got better things to do!” With her legs crossed tightly and her squinty eyes, she snorts a cynical laugh. “Here at the telephone company, we handle 84 billion calls a year, serving everyone from presidents and kings to the scum of the earth. We realize that every so often you can’t get an operator, for no apparent reason your phone goes out of order, or perhaps you get charged for a call you didn’t make.
“We don’t care.”
Mrs. Judy Beasley is all sweetness and light in her tan cardigan sweater uniform—the quintessential housewife. She assures us that she is “not an actor, but a real person like yourself.” Judy wants us to know that she is more than just an encyclopedia of shopping and household tips; she is a passionate woman with real womanly urges. “To look at me you’d never suspect I was a semi-nonorgasmic woman,” she says. “This means it was possible for me to have an orgasm—but highly unlikely. To me, the term ‘sexual freedom’ meant freedom from having to have sex.”
Judy recommends “Good Vibrations” to every housewife. “Ladies, it can be a real help to the busy married woman who has a thousand chores and simply does not need the extra burden of trying to have an orgasm.”
Susie Sorority has way too much school spirit. Dressed in her university-issued plaid skirt, exposed kneecaps and white socks, the towhead reveals secrets of the collegiate Greek underground in a soft-spoken and sincere voice. She tends to obsess over pivotal issues such as who wears white shoes before Labor Day.
Bobbi-Jeanine’s bedroom eyes, pool-table-green lounge dress and bronze beehive are a perfect match for a spot on “The Lawrence Welk Show.” In fact, it has always been Bobbi-Jeanine’s dream to be a member of Welk’s ringside audience. Every weekend, the bronze-haired, celebrated cocktail keyboardist appears at Fresno’s Starlight Cocktail Lounge.
Lucille W says she is “a rubber freak.”
“It’s alright; I can talk about it now. Of course there was a time when I couldn’t. When I look back on it I think it all started with rubber bands. I wasn’t swallowing them in those days. I just sorta munched on ‘em.” Lucille continues her confession in a cold, hardened voice, “Soon, I was up to 20 pencil erasers a day.”
~ ~ ~
Edith Ann, Bobbi-Jeanine, Judy, Lucille and Ernestine are all, of course, played by Lily Tomlin. The brilliant comedienne and actress has introduced more than two dozen alter-egos in Broadway performances, on television and in films spanning more than 30 years.
The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, a one-woman show that opened on Broadway in 1985, featured many of Tomlin’s characters. The hugely successful play, written by longtime collaborator Jane Wagner, was directed by Tomlin and won four Tony Awards, including one for best actress.
Tomlin’s performance style blends comedy with a constant social commentary undertone intertwined in each of her characters—outlandishly exaggerated caricatures with internal conflict, struggles and sometimes sadness.
Each of Tomlin’s characters is a meticulous creation. She doesn’t aim for cheap laughs, but instead presents observations of human nature that are many times humorous because of their truth.
“I construct a compressed accuracy, a character essence that is as true and real as I can get it,” she says. “I don’t go for laughter. I never play for a joke, per se. If the joke gets in the character’s way, I take it out.”
For nearly three decades Tomlin has grabbed the public’s attention: She rocketed to fame on TV’s “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” in 1969; she made her film debut in Robert Altman’s epic ensemble piece Nashville, in 1975; was proclaimed the “New Queen of Comedy” on the cover of a 1977 issue of Time; and starred in Altman’s final film, A Prairie Home Companion, in 2006. Her current tour, a comical and insightful romp, revives several of the finest moments from this remarkable career, including some of Tomlin’s earliest creations and most unforgettable other selves—Edith Ann and Ernestine.
LILY TOMLIN will perform An Evening of Classic Lily Tomlin on Friday, June 1, at 8pm at The Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St. in Monterey. The show is sold out. Call 372-3800 to join the wait list.