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‘Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein’ had Oakland audience laughing all night

Published: Sun, February 7, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Milan Paurich

The weather outside was frightful, but not even the biggest snowstorm in years could deter theatergoers from turning out en masse Friday night for the opening performance of “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at the Oakland Center for the Arts. And judging by the volcanic, convulsive laughter that erupted throughout the auditorium from start to finish, I’m guessing that nobody minded having to shovel a path to their car just to get home.

A kooky amalgam of 10 scenes with no discernible connection other than the misanthropic worldview of the late Shel Silverstein, “An Adult Evening” is as spotty as most anthologies of this type. Having read the play in advance, I was quite frankly shocked that director Shawn Lockaton and his superb cast — some newbies, several ringers — managed to find as many chuckles as they did in the text. Or maybe Silverstein’s omnibus just “plays” better than it reads.

Chris Bosi’s neatly functional set serves as an appealing, unfussy backdrop for a succession of blackout skits, many of which could have hailed from the glory days of “Saturday Night Live” (if NBC censors had been asleep at the wheel, that is). Some playlets, however — e.g., Act One’s sophomoric “Bus Stop” — probably should have never seen the light of day. Yet even the weakest bits are consistently elevated, if not wholly redeemed, by the caliber of acting.

Show opener “The Best Daddy” is a queasy exercise in dark comedy in which a father surprises his daughter with a dead pony (?!) for her 13th birthday.

More creepy than funny due to its intimations of possible sexual abuse, the scene still manages to work because brilliant Oakland newcomers Kenny Lazarus and Courtney Auman give such bravura, fiercely committed performances.

Although the two prostitutes (Auman and the divine Molly Makselan) soliciting a potential customer in “Buy One, Get One Free” promise “no crudeness, no vulgarity,” “An Adult Evening With Shel Silverstein” is chockablock with both. In other words, if you’re the type of prude who’s easily offended, the show’s off-color (and occasionally off-putting) humor, voluminous profanity and occasional peek-a-boo nudity are liable to give you a heart attack.

Silverstein may have written his share of kid-friendly works (“Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “The Giving Tree” among them), but this clearly isn’t one of them. (That “Adult” in the play’s title is both an adjective and a noun.)

“Thinking Up a New Name for the Act,” one of the most consistently amusing skits, features only two words (“meat” and “potatoes”) repeated ad infinitum while tracking a crime story from murder to trial to execution. As the Bickering Bickersons whose squabble escalates to homicide, Lazarus and Bernadette Lin bring an incredible amount of barbed wit and telling nuance to those two simple words.

Husbands and wives figure prominently in two other vignettes as well. “The Lifeboat is Sinking” consists of a late-night argument between a married couple (Oakland regular Suzanne Shorrab and impressive first-timer Dan Poppke) about who should/would be tossed overboard if they were stranded on a lifeboat. And in “One Tennis Shoe,” an apoplectic husband (Poppke again) works up the nerve to confront his batty wife (Makselan in the evening’s finest performance) about her bag-lady proclivities. I also very much enjoyed the droll “Wash and Dry” in which a trip to the dry cleaners turns into a Kafkaesque nightmare for an unsuspecting customer (Lin). Playing the officious clerk-from-hell, Shaun Lipe matches the terrific Lin laugh for laugh.

Lipe is also very good as a loquacious pet in “Blind Willie and The Talking Dog,” an otherwise ho-hum skit that does feature some crazy-cool harmonica playing by Oakland novice Adam Jackson as the titular hobo. Equally one-note is “Smile,” a badly dated skit about the inventor of the smiley-face logo (Eric McCrea). Speaking of monotonous, the satirical “Going Once” quickly wears out its welcome despite splendid work by the indispensable Makselan and Charles Kettering.

Lockaton and the Oakland are to be commended for choosing a show as defiantly quirky and not-for-all-tastes as “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein.” But if the raucous laughter still ringing through my ears is any indication, there’s clearly an appetite for unconventional theater in the Mahoning Valley. Which, needless to say, is very good news for all of us.

X“An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” runs through next Sunday at the Oakland Center for the Arts. For tickets, call (330) 746-0404. Saturday’s performance was canceled because of the snow.


1theatergoer51(1 comment)posted 6 years, 5 months ago

Hmmm...I think that the quality of shows produced by the Oakland has significantly gone down hill; looking for cheap thrills instead of true substance. Swearing, sexual innuendos and, of course, nudity have come center stage instead of true talent that some of these fine actors have. I am truly appalled at the lack of respect for one's self presented in this and many other of the shows at this establishment. One fine actress, who is quickly becoming known for her nudity on the Oakland stage, was once a respectful woman playing the strong, motherly Marmee at YSU. She now prances around in these "avant garde" shows in little but her underwear. I feel that the Oakland corrupts once upstading actors and actresses. At what point do we, as the audience, say "enough is enough!" and walk away from the nudity and look for more respectful shows. Would you allow your sons or daughters view such spectacles? I know that I thank my lucky stars that I did my research before taking my kids to any of these shows. If there is a chance of nudity, you know it will be in there. Any young actors or actresses, BEWARE! If you respect yourself or your careers at all, don't look at the Oakland for a chance to broaden your resume, find a respectable establishment to do so. Unless the Oakland shapes up, I will no longer patron any of their performances. I apologize if some of you think I am out of hand, but this is just an opinion. You are entitled to yours and it may very well be different. I encourage all of you who feel as I do to express your feelings here or to the Oakland. Thank You, ~A Concerned Mother~

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2TomSmith65(3 comments)posted 6 years, 4 months ago

Well Concerned Mother ... I see that dozens of people have rushed to agree with your views.

Your attack on the talent and credibility of one of the actresses in the show is, frankly, ridiculous.

Would you like to also broaden your barbs to include other actresses who have degraded themselves by appearing nude?

Hmmm, let's see .... Christina Ricci, Hedy Lamarr, Laura Linney, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Jacqueline Bisset, Drew Barrymore, Susan Sarandon, Valerie Perrine, Dana Delany, Maria Schneider, Daryl Hannah, Charlize Theron, Demi Moore, Rosanna Arquette, Ann-Margret, Rosario Dawson, Angie Dickinson, Goldie Hawn, Helen Mirren (has performed nude scenes in five different decades - the hussy), Linda Blair, Mariel Hemingway, Jennifer Aniston, Chloë Sevigny, Sharon Stone, Marisa Tomei ,Kelly Preston, Halle Berry, Julie Andrews (My God ... Not Marry Poppins!!!), Anne Hathaway, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jennifer Connelly, Nicole Kidman, Meredith Baxter, Kate Winslet .... and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Call them "once respectable"?

Many are Academy Award Winners ...(Oh yes, Sandra Bullock has appeared nude too.)

I suggest that the author of the above comment stick to theatrical venues that cater to her tastes. I don't think you are out of hand ... just a little out of touch.

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3TomSmith65(3 comments)posted 6 years, 4 months ago

Yes, I know I mentioned Nicole Kidman twice. Once for her film work and once for her stage work. That woman has no shame!

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