According to the program of the Atlantic Theater Co.’s “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein,” the late Silverstein, who died in 1999, wrote “hundreds” of short plays. Assuming the 10 collected in this omnibus are among the strongest, it’s safe to say that Silverstein’s dramatic output is not going to have the enduring appeal of his famous children’s books such as “The Giving Tree” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”
The sketches in this tiresome evening are fitfully amusing, but they are more frequently dated, tasteless or just plain feeble, and they are not given much of a lift by the performers in Karen Kohlhaas’ production. Aside from some snatches of Silverstein’s goofy rock songs, the most appealing element in the show is the snazzy swoop of white plastic that constitutes Walt Spangler’s set. Lit in candy colors by Robert Perry, it could double as a dance floor in some stylish retro boite.
The first item, “One Tennis Shoe,” is among the few containing any sustained wit, but Maryann Urbano’s performance as a woman whose husband (Jordan Lage) accuses her of having bag-lady tendencies is so heavy and charmless that it soon begins to grate.
In the juvenile “Bus Stop,” a man with a sign saying “Bust Stop” (heh heh) accosts a young woman and then begins harassing her with crude nicknames for breasts. She retorts by harassing him back with nicknames for the penis. End of skit.
In the tasteless department falls “The Best Daddy,” featuring a father who gives his 13-year-old daughter (Alicia Goranson) a pony for her birthday; only problem is he’s just killed it. When she responds hysterically, he calms her down by saying the lumpen form under the blanket is not a dead pony but her dead sister.
There’s more family fun in “Lifeboat,” as a wife browbeats her husband into playing a fantasy game in which he must throw either his wife, mother or daughter overboard to keep the boat they’re adrift in afloat.
Kelly Maurer and Josh Stamberg, whose perfs display the most versatility in the course of the evening, perform with frenzied abandon, but here as elsewhere, the kind of naive charm that might rub the nasty edge off the skit is missing.
It’s not really the sour nature of the humor in these skits that’s offensive; it’s the general lack of it. (Did I mention the one about the auctioneer commissioned by a young woman to sell her to the highest bidder?)
The mildly funny but dated would include “Smile,” in which a trio of bullying agents torment a man accused of inventing that smiley-face logo and similarly vapid linguistic expressions such as “Have a nice day” and “Right on.” In the early ’70s, when these terms had some cultural currency (and when the skit was written, presumably), the humor might have had a sharp kick; it no longer does.
That takes care of the dated and the tasteless. In the merely feeble department would fall the last item, “Blind Willie and the Talking Dog,” which mines its small nuggets of humor from a talking dog who threatens to leave his bum partner for greener pastures. Need I say more? Perhaps only that grownups with fond affection for Silverstein’s kids books should steer clear.