Even though there was just one woman on stage during Lily Tomlin's performance at the Byham Theater, the audience was treated to a full cast of Tomlin's most classic characters. Tomlin, a comedy and show business legend at 72, bounded onto the stage and immediately connected with this Pittsburgh audience by launching into a cheer about Pittsburgh's three rivers. That was the start of an interesting evening that was a smooth mix of Tomlin's intelligent wit and showcases of her many well known characters.
Tomlin kept up the physical pace throughout the show, frequently pacing back and forth, and even dropping her knees or to the floor numerous times to emphasize her spot-on comedic timing. The show felt more like Tomlin was just talking to friends, and she was at ease connecting with the audience packed with her fans. It was interesting to watch Tomlin's monologue, which frequently focused on 'things she worries about', as it was obvious that she was mixing a planned monologue with very unplanned, improvisational moments - occasional voice trouble, and a broken bracelet were just a few impromptu moments that Tomlin had no trouble turning into laughs.
The interestingly crafted show transitioned between Tomlin's stand up routine and her character vignettes by incorporating film clips of her most beloved characters. Among the characters who made an appearance were the ever precocious Edith Ann, the world's oldest living beauty expert Madame Lupe, Trudy, the bag lady with alien connections, and of course Ernestine and her one ringy dingy, who is now a snarky claims adjuster for a health insurance conglomerate.
It is during these character sketches that one really realizes the intelligence and depth of Tomlin's comedic talent. Because she performs them without costumes, it's striking to visually see her 'become' each of the characters with such complete embodiment. Again, the physicality of Tomlin's performance style was evident, as she rocked back on the floor as Edith Ann, and distorted her lips into an seemingly impossible and grossly unattractive formation as Madame Lupe.
Tomlin's performance wove together these character studies, as well as stories from her own childhood - school memories of her obsessive schoolgirl crush on an attractive teacher, memories of the absolute horror of pronouncing the word island as 'is-land' when reading aloud in class, and a classic Tomlin routine featuring Marie and Lud, representations of her own parents, and her own over the top, angsty adolescent reaction to their innocent conversation about cake, perhaps the most absurd moment of the show.
Tomlin's humor is smart and ever so slightly on the edge of sanity; she is not afraid to make her audiences think, nor is she afraid to let her creative genius run wild in her character portrayals. Tomlin generously ended the evening with a post-show question and answer session which was just as entertaining as the show itself.
Photo Credit: Lily Tomlin in white shirt by Brett Patterson