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A CurtainUp Review
An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein
I have an ego, I have ideas, I want to be articulate, to communicate but in my own way. People who say they create only for themselves and don't care if they are published. . . I hate to hear talk like that. If it's good, it's too good not to share.
--- Shel Silverstein, who was still sharing his talents when he died at just 66-years-young (Publishers Weekly, February 24, 1974).
Kelly Maurer & Josh Stamberg
Kelly Maurer & Josh Stamberg (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
The world is a richer place because Shel Silverstein (1930-1999) passed through it, leaving behind an eclectic creative archive. He wrote and illustrated a shelf full of children's books, their whimsical verses remembered long after childhood's passing (can anyone forget Mrs. Twitter the babysitter/I think she's a little bit crazy/ she thinks the babysitter suppose /to sit upon the baby?). There's also a fat discography of Shel Silverstein hit songs (if you were lucky, you might even have heard him perform some of them). Other Silverstein treasures include countless adult poems and a whole series of one-act play collections under such catchall umbrella titles as The Bag Plays, The Sign Plays and The Bathroom Plays.

Simply put, Shel Silverstein was a one-man talent factory who turned the old adage Jack of all trades but master of none on its head. Those who knew him personally, like the Atlantic Theater Company's co-founder David Mamet, loved as well as admired him.

An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein is Mamet and company's tribute to Silverstein's gleeful and at times ghoulish humor. The evening features ten mini-comedies (Definitely for adults only!) culled from his various play series. The evening is as much a gift to the company as to the honoree. Even the slightest conceit affords the performers a chance to showcase their comedic dexterity. Karen Kohlhaas, who directed these Shel gamesters in the more serious The Water Engine, has skillfully guided them to animate Silvertein's skits with dead pan delivery and carefully calibrated gestures.

Since Silverstein was first and most famously a cartoonist, perhaps the best way to categorize all of this is as a medley of dramatized cartoons. Comedy skits, playlets, one-acters, cartoons -- call them what you will, most are intent on tickling the funny bone though, as with any cartoon, there are subtexts to be extracted from at least a few. If some are more dry chuckles than belly laughs, well that's typical of most such collections.

Duets prevail, starting with "One Tennis Shoe" which revolves around a restaurant encounter between a typical Upper Eastside couple, Harvey (Jordan Lage) and Sylvia (Maryann Urbano). Both are dressed in the best, low key Dry Dock County chic. She, in fact, arrives carrying an extra-large Big Brown Bag. It is this bag that proves to be the Pandora's Box revealing an obsession that will make you take a second look at every brown bag toting Bloomingdale shopper (and, if you are into the subtext, all bag ladies) you pass.

"Bus Stop" is notable for little except Alicia Goranson's ability to string raunchy words together without stopping to catch her breath. In "Going Once", Jody Lambert, as a fast-talking auctioneer, tries to sell us a pink-clad Barbie-Doll blonde named Annie (Kelly Maurer). This new-fangled slave auction, a fairly silly spoof on sexual politics, is saved by Maurer's droll acting out of the assets and skills claimed for her by pitchman Lambert. After Jordan Lage and Alicia Coranson in "The Best Daddy,", give a nightmarish twist to a a tale that h starts out as if it were intended for Silverstein's kid audience, Maurer and Josh Stamberg conclude the first part of the evening with "The Lifeboat is Sinking", a subversive twist on a standard mother-in-law joke.

After the intermission, which like the intra-skit music, provides a recorded taste of Silverstein's songs, there's a gangster-noir in which three nattily dressed Mafia types (Kelly Maurer-Bender, Jordan Lage-Jimbo and Jody Lambert-Gibby) descend on the studio of Snooky (Josh Stamberg), the graphic artist who coined the slogan on the ubuiquitous Smiley buttons. The trio is out to seek revenge on behalf of the cliche-besieged world. Snooky's crimes against originality also include phrases like "have a good day." I'll leave it to you to find out whether more benign gems like " make love, not war" will save Snooky from these avengers' wrath.

"Wash and Dry", one of the evening's standouts, most tellingly reflects the influence of Chicago based funny men like Silverstein on popular sitcoms. Maryann Urbano and Alicia Goranson as a laundry manager with a unique concept of customer service and a frustrated customer bring to mind the famous Seinfeld episodes about the Soup Nazi. "Buy One Get One Free", is a riff with catchy Shakespearean flavored verses. It relies heavily on the names of its three characters for laughs -- two hookers named Merilee (Alicia Goranson) and Sherilee (Maryann Urbano) and a would-be customer who could only be named Lee (Jordan Lage) -- and so he is! .

A few words about the stagecraft are very much in order. Walt Spangler's slick, all-purpose primary colored set aptly serves each story and the overall cartoon mood. Lighting designer Robert Perry deftly transforms what you see when you take your seat into a kaleidoscope of additional colors. As for Miguel Angel Huldor's costumes, they are show in their own right. "Thinking Up a New Name For the Act", owes whatever humor it provides to the variety of black and white polka dots and plaids worn. Even the nonhuman co-star of the shaggy dog finale, Barney the dog, is adorable.

In a season with little to laugh about off-stage, the Atlantic Theater seems to be on the right track . A full-length comedy is scheduled to follow (a revival of a 1915 comedy by Harold Brigthouse starring that most steadily employed of actors, Brian Murray). World premieres by Craig Lucas and Richard Nelson are set to complete the 2001-02 season, this looks like a good time to become member. That way, as the company members combine honoring Shel Silverstein with having a good time with his dizzy cast of characters, you can combine good theater with affordable prices.

The Water Engine which features this team in a more serious mood.
For reviews of other Atlantic Theater productions, check our master index or our site search engine

An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein
Written by Shel Silverstein
Directed by Karen Kohlhaas

ONE TENNIS SHOE with Jordan Lage (Harvey) and Mary Ann Urbano (Sylvia)
BUS STOPwith Josh Stamberg (Irwin) and Alicia Goranson (Celia)
GOING ONCE with Jody Lambert (auctioneer) and Kelly Maurer (Annie)
THE BEST DADDY with Alicia Goranson (Lisa) and Jordan Lage (Daddy)
THE LIFEBOAT IS SINKING with Kelly Maurer (Jen)and Josh Stamberg (Sherwin)
SMILE with Kelly Maurer (Bender), Jody Lambert (Gibby), Jordan Lache (Jimbo), Josh Stamberg (Snicker)

WASH AND DRY with Alicia Goranson (Marianne) and Mary Ann Urbano (Georgia)
THINKING UP A NEW NAME FOR THE ACT with Kelly Maurer (Lucy) and Jody Lambert (Pete)
BUY ONE GET ONE FREE with Alicia Goranson (Merilee), Mary Ann Urbano (Sherilee), Jordan Lage (Lee)
BLIND WILLIE AND THE TALKING DOG with Josh Stamberg (Blind Willie) and Jordan Lage (Barney)
Set Design: Walt Spangler
Costume Design: Miguel Angel Huidor
Lighting Design: Robert Perry
Sound Design:Malcolm Nicholls
Running Time: First 5 plays 45 minutes, second 5 plays 60 minutes, for a total of 2 hours and 15 minutes including one intermission
Atlantic Theater Co., 336 W. 20t St. (8/9th Aves) 212/239-6200
9//9/01-11/28/01 (with possible extension)
Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 2:00pm and 8:00pm, and Sundays at 3:00pm.--$45 ($15 for Atlantic Theater members)
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Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 10/15/01 matinee performance
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