If, like me, you were a kid in the '70s, you might have owned Where the Sidewalk Ends. I grew up on that collection of silly verse, spending countless hours with my hardbound copy. Its rhymes and quirky drawings are forever burned in my brain ("Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout / will not take the garbage out").
But after childhood, I didn't give Silverstein, who died in 1999, much thought. So I approached the Bricks Theatre's first-ever production, An Adult Evening with Shel Silverstein, with real trepidation -- and two questions: Would it tarnish my innocent childhood memories? And more important, would it be funny?
I'm relieved to report the answers are "no" and "yes," respectively.
Evening is a series of six raunchy, absurdist vignettes performed by a six-member cast. Each actor tackles multiple roles.
The show, which is being staged at the Frequency, clocks in a just over an hour. Both the comic tone and the length of the show work well for this venue; the long, narrow club is not a place I'd want to see Long Day's Journey into Night. If you want to nab a good seat, get there early and grab a drink.
All three Bricks Theatre founders (George Gonzalez, Dave Pausch and Ric Lantz) are former staffers of the now-defunct Madison Repertory Theatre. The Rep's last artistic director, Trevin Gay, appears in the cast. But similarities to the Rep end there; it's clear that these three, left to their own devices, want to stake out an edgier path.
Evening introduces us to a motley crew of characters. They include a duo of rhyming hookers; a dad seriously in need of a parenting course; a mediocre, blind blues singer and his irascible talking dog; and a hapless guy being grilled by the cops for coming up with the most insipid catchphrases of the '60s and '70s ("far out," "right on," "I need my own space," etc.).
Given the mix of short pieces, Evening plays more like absurdist sketch comedy than a traditional night of theater -- and that's just fine. It's less about deep character development than it is about quirky situations and (as you'd expect from Silverstein) freewheeling language play.
In the opener, "Buy One, Get One Free," streetwalkers Sherilee and Merrilee make every line rhyme as they pitch their wares to a prospective john. Sherilee (Jessica Evans Grimm) works a plaid-skirted schoolgirl look, while towering transsexual Merrilee (Trevin Gay) is a spangly vision in black and red (and armpit hair).
Gay proves himself to be a nimble comic actor with an expressive face. Another standout is R. Peter Hunt (who was excellent last year in Strollers' production of Doubt), who plays the canine sidekick to a blues singer -- yet Barney the Dog has got dreams of his own (and a penchant for f-bombs).
Hunt and Stephanie Robey play off of each other well in Evening's strangest short, "Thinking Up a New Name for the Act," which uses only three words of dialogue that are repeated over and over with different inflections: "meat and potatoes."
It's hard to describe, but with these three words, they flesh out the tale of a husband and wife whose playful teasing in the kitchen turns sexual and then violent. It's alternately hilarious, disturbing and weird -- which, come to think of it, sums up An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein pretty well.
If that sounds like your cup of gin, Bricks Theatre's inaugural show is well worth your time.