Moon-faced playwright-director Jane Wagner is beaming over the Best Revival Tony Award nomination for her play, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, the 1985-86 solo show for Lily Tomlin that was thought to be a kind of specialty act when it premiered.
The rare cultural revue — a series of connected and related monologues and scenes — was dubbed ineligible for a Best Play nomination back then.
The quirk of the Tony Award nominating process is that opinions may shift with a change of the nominating committee, or over time. In 2000-2001, The Search is now suddenly recognized as a play, in revival. Wagner and Tomlin are co-producers of the hit six-month revival closing May 20 at the Booth Theatre. If the work wins Best Revival of a Play, Wagner will technically win as its producer, not its playwright.
Nevertheless, Wagner told Playbill On-Line "it's very sweet," and admitted she felt she had written a play, and the fact that her work was overlooked was hurtful.
"Because Lily is Lily in the play, I think it was understandably a little bit confusing the first time," Wagner said. "This is a wonderful acknowledgement. I'm really thrilled. I wanted to tell myself it wouldn't get [a nomination] so I wouldn't be too hopeful, and then when I got it I realized how much it meant to me. This was a great affirmation." Wagner said the show will go on tour after its Broadway run, and there are hopes for a run in London. "None of this has been finalized, but it looks like we will be in San Francisco during this summer," Wagner said, adding that other dates are expected.
"We want to tour this," she explained. "Lily loves this and gets no greater pleasure than to do this. She never gets burned out from it. Nothing rewards her as much."
Why haven't we seen a play from Wagner in the past 15 years?
"Don't embarrass me," Wagner laughed. "Lily asks me that every day. I've been doing other things. I really did stop to smell the roses and I've been enjoying life and growing in many different ways. I'm not as prolific as Terrence McNally."