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PEI Conservatory presents Laurie Murphy in Lily Tomlin hit show

by Jeff Green

A beaming smile stretches across Laurie Murphy’s face when she mentions her latest gig. The well-known actor, director and producer tackles the lead role—make that roles—in the one-woman show The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe this month at the Charlottetown Hotel.

“I’m very excited and thrilled and nervous,” she says with a hearty laugh. “But I’m convinced I’ll have a great time.”

Veteran American actress Lily Tomlin, who has starred in everything from “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In” to “The West Wing,” has performed the show all over North American, winning a Tony Award for Best Actress in 1986. It was written by Jane Wagner, Tomlin’s life partner and longtime collaborator.

Murphy is the first to insist she has big shoes to fill by taking on the show, but says she’s looking forward to the project, which is being directed by Duncan McIntosh and is being produced by the PEI Conservatory. Pam Stevenson is the assistant director and producer. “The great thing is that it’s such a fantastic play,” Murphy explains. “It’s really a provocative, funny and clever show. It deals with everything from sex to relationships to life and love and death.”

“I actually saw it in San Francisco three years ago,” says Laurie. “and Lily gave such an amazing performance. If I knew I was going to be doing the show when I saw it I would have taken good notes.”

Murphy plays a total of 14 characters throughout the show, including a bag lady named Trudy and Kate, a bored socialite. She says the broad range of characters is one of the things that attracted her to the project.

Although she’s working with the directors to put the finishing touches on all the characters, Murphy says that when the curtain rises, the onus is solely on her to carry the play. She says being the only performer on stage is more exhilarating than exhausting.

“We’ve done a word-by-word analysis and I’ve done as much research as possible,” she says. “My sketch comedy experience will come in handy because I’ll have to become the character in front of the audience.”

For his part Duncan McIntosh says he’s thrilled to bring Wagner and Tomlin’s play to audiences here on PEI. McIntosh has worked with the comedy veterans in the past and calls the show “an important piece of writing.”

“It combines comedy with some really positive happy insight in a world that’s pretty cynical,” he says. “It’s really a delight and is very imagination based.”

The PEI Conservatory is also working with about 10 community-based groups to promote the play. In turn the organizations get a portion of the proceeds. “We are building partnerships with community groups to either raise their profile or help top up their coffers,” says McIntosh.

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe runs April 7, 8 and 10th, as well as April 14-17 at the Charlottetown Hotel. For tickets call: 902-892-6464 or log onto: www.peiconservatory.com

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