Classic Lily Tomlin is timeless 

Since her show today in Napa is being billed as "An Evening of Classic Lily Tomlin," the Emmy-Tony-Grammy winner – who's also an Oscar nominee – admits there won't be a lot of new material.

"If I could get Jane, my partner, to write a new show, that would be about as divine as it gets for me," she says.

Jane is Jane Wagner, and she and Tomlin have been partners in life and in showbiz for over 40 years. They share a wonderfully skewed view of the human condition that is simultaneously hysterical, astute and touching.

Most famous among their collaborations is the play "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe," which had an early workshop performance at the Great American Music Hall in the 1980s.

There will likely be elements of "Search" in today's show along with visits from Edith Ann, Ernestine, Judith Beasley and the myriad other characters Tomlin introduced through "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" in the '70s – but Tomlin never phones it in.

"It's never just a gig," she says. "It's always special to me because I want it to be good. I began introducing a little multi-media into the performance, both to satirize myself and give history of a character."

She laughs at the suggestion that she's now reaching a second generation of fans. "Are you sure it's not third?"

Fact is, the characters are timeless and their observations are as valid today as ever. "I've always had the instinct to sort of establish in a cultural context who was going to be speaking, whether an audience knew them or not. Do you know what I mean? I'm trying to do culture types, hopefully sort of generically recognized, whether it's Beasley as a middle American kind of housewife or homemaker, or Ernestine just being an officious bureaucrat, tyrannizing helpless subscribers or patrons."

Her characters have kept up with the times. "During the whole Bush administration Ernestine had a webcast chat show called 'Ernestine Calls You On It.' So you better have an answer, right? At some point she tried to broker peace with Sadam Hussein and the White House. Later she called Bush during his run for a second term and said, 'You don't have to worry about beating Senator Kerry. He only served in a war. You've actually started one.'"

As perpetually precocious and eternally 8-year-old Edith Ann might say, "That's classic Tomlin, and that's the truth!"

An Evening of Classic Lily Tomlin

Where: Uptown Theatre, 1350 Third St., Napa

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $65 to $80

Contact: (707) 259-0123,

About The Author

Robert Sokol

Robert Sokol

Robert Sokol is the editor at BAYSTAGES, the creative director at VIA MEDIA, and a lifelong arts supporter. Diva wrangler, cinefiler, and occasional saloon singer, he has been touching showbiz all his life. (So far no restraining orders have been issued!)... more
Pin It

More by Robert Sokol

Latest in Theater

© 2018 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation