Even after a strenuous rehearsal, Joy Vandervort-Cobb can elicit laughs. “Girl, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking doing this again,” she jokes after a particularly tough session with director/producer Robert Daniel preparing for The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, a nearly two-hour-long solo performance.
Playwright Jane Wagner’s central character (which she wrote for Lily Tomlin) has never really left Vandervort-Cobb, an associate professor of African-American theater at the College of Charleston. After performing the piece for the first time at Piccolo in 1999, a part of Trudy “the bag lady” stayed. “Even when I’m not in rehearsal, Trudy will pop out at my house sometimes,” Vandervort-Cobb says. “I start talking in that voice, and my son is like, ‘Oh no, Trudy is here.'”
Director Robert Daniel likewise has a soft spot for the script he first presented to Vandervort-Cobb more than 13 years ago. Even then, he was pushing her into the part. Daniel says, “It’s a show about how all of us are connected in large and small ways and how the person that you see intermittently in your day, you never have any idea of how much of a profound impact you might have on that person’s life.” It’s also “hysterically funny,” he adds.
Daniel and Vandervort-Cobb seem to have come to terms with the fact that this may be the last time the they put on the performance. “After that curtain call, the last time we did this show, I fell apart, I just wept. I knew it was the last time I would be doing Trudy,” Vandervort-Cobb says. “I said physically I would never be pulling her out again.”
But Daniel called, and they’re back. For one last search, at least.