That was at all times a bit twee, however at the moment it’s additionally troublesome. The self-consciously cute Trudy, who claims to be chaperoning a bunch of aliens as they discover the byways of human society, could now not be such a laughable determine, regardless of the umbrella hat she wears as a sort of interstellar satellite tv for pc dish. Homelessness, which in Reagan-era New York City gave the impression to be a short lived aberration, has since curdled into one thing extra like a structural catastrophe, making a everlasting underclass of financial and psychological well being victims.
Tomlin bought round the issue, if it was one then, by taking a breezy strategy, preserving the rhythms of the punch strains in any respect prices. She had, in any case, change into well-known on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” a loosey-goosey, mile-a-minute variety show.
But Strong’s potential to create and maintain outré characters who nevertheless remain fundamentally believable — a talent developed over 10 seasons on “Saturday Night Live” — works towards our consolation in her New York stage debut. It’s tougher to giggle at her Trudy, a determine of pathos with a squinty tic and a hunched gait that by no means helps you to overlook she is shadowed by hazard.
That dedication to at the least a nub of naturalism retains stepping on the jokes; the evening I noticed the play, a majority of the laughter appeared to return in response to the uncannily timed sounds of zippers zipping, bottle tops popping and water beds sloshing. (The sound design is by Elisheba Ittoop.) Otherwise Silverman’s staging appears to recommend we’re in a liminal, performative area, with no set to talk of and with Strong (like Tomlin within the unique play, however not the awkward 1991 movie) altering costumes solely minimally. And although the lighting (by Stacey Derosier) helps separate the feelings, Strong’s voices usually are not but ideally distinct.
But simply as I started to wonder if I had misremembered what Trudy calls “the goosebump expertise” — the sensation you get when moved by artwork — “Intelligent Life” pulled itself collectively. Dispensing with the range format, and giving Trudy a 30-minute relaxation, the second half is usually dedicated to the story of three mates dwelling by way of second-wave feminism, from the founding of the National Organization for Women to the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment. Edie is the militant one, with “Spanish moss” below her arms. Marge is the cynic: “Honey, you couldn’t be extra antiwar,” she tells Edie. “But if it weren’t for Army surplus, you’d don’t have anything to put on.”
And Lyn is the one caught in between, attempting to be each Edie and Marge whereas additionally being a spouse, a mom of boys, a rape hotline operator and a power-dressing P.R. government. As the quick-take grievances of the sooner characters, nevertheless humorous, give approach to the unusual wear-and-tear on girls attempting to operate honorably in a sexist society, the play achieves, and Strong fulfills, the promise of the premise.
That promise is paradoxical: In providing a pull-no-punches satire of self-involved people, it’s however full of pity for his or her disappointments. But as a substitute of seeing that as a fault, maybe it’s higher to say that by lastly realizing the must be “extra particular,” “Intelligent Life” ultimately replaces a budget sort of uplift with the true deal. Trudy calls the emotional exercise of human life “awerobics.” By the time you get to the play’s killer final line, you could name it a real goosebump expertise.