Most people know the late Shel Silverstein from his irreverent humor in children’s books like “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “The Giving Tree.”
But the poet and humorist, who once wrote for Playboy magazine, shows a more dark and grown-up side in the short plays presented in “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein,” weekends through April 4 in Indy’s Theatre on the Square.
New Palestine High School alum Scott Robinson directs a troupe of six — Sasha Bannister, Kelsee B. Hankins, Stacia Hulen, Ryan Powell, Patrick Slattery and Robert Webster Jr. — which performs 10 skits with various bizarre or suggestive plots.
Silverstein’s style is evident from the very first scene, presenting what his character, Sylvia Stout, might be like as an adult. Another regards a daughter’s 10th birthday gift, which lies mysteriously still under a blanket.
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One scene late in the series is a very long but amusing verse recited by two prostitutes and their prospective customer. Less poetic is a lecher at the bus stop reciting the various names for women’s breasts.
The allegory and social commentary also include: a misogynist auction; terrorists fighting popular culture; a “lifeboat” thought experiment taken to its extreme; and a “laundry” that caters to those who don’t pay attention. In the final scene, the world’s only talking dog hangs out with his best friend: a homeless, blind, blues musician.
Perhaps the best scene is the longest, which involves all six actors in a story punctuated by the beats of the “Law & Order” sound effect — a touch Silverstein no doubt would have liked. Instead of actual dialogue, just three common words are spoken over and over in various repetitions and inflections. The elaborate acting exercise comes off well with this sextet and even has a punch line at the end.
The show is uneven overall but benefits from its talented cast.
Powell, with Hulen, elevates what could have been a banal look at men’s obsession with the female form in “Bus Stop.” In the closing skit, he gives Blind Willie unflappable optimism, making him more likable.
Webster shows deft ability to play even the silliest scene with a straight face as the concerned husband of Sylvia (Hankins), the poetic prostitutes’ target, the talking dog and the father of the birthday girl (Hulen), though it’s unclear why he has a Scottish accent as the latter.
Bannister ably communicates silently as the meek subject of the auction (glibly conducted by Slattery). The scene is more disturbing than amusing — made more so by the mixed-ethnicity actor — but still relevant, given the continuing struggle for women’s equality. Bannister is also appropriately over the top testing her husband (Powell, equally hilarious) in “The Lifeboat is Sinking” and shines in the Law & Order skit.
Hankins evokes sympathy (at least, at first) as Sylvia and is sharp as the laundry clerk. She and Hulen seem to enjoy themselves as the rhyming prostitutes. Hulen acquits herself well as the bus stop lecher’s target and the laundry’s customer. As the 10-year-old birthday girl, Hulen’s character charmingly overacts.
Slattery makes the most of a couple of unsympathetic characters as the auctioneer and later as the evil fiend who disrupted polite society with the infernal saying, “Have a nice day!”
The set is appropriately simple with a pair of boxes rearranged to form furniture or a counter. The backdrop features illustrations based on Silverstein’s book covers, but with sufficient adult content to let everyone in on the concept of the play (not so jarring a juxtaposition when one considers the mildly naughty nature of his children’s verse). To further drive the point home, actual 9-year-old Colin McCabe takes the stage in a brief opening scene that was frankly unnecessary.
What: An Adult Evening with Shel Silverstein
When: Weekends through April 4
Where: Theatre on the Square, 627 Massachusetts Ave., Indianapolis
Information: 317-685-8687, tots.org
John Belden is former arts editor of the Daily Reporter. He lives in Irvington. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.