Fringe Festival 2011: ‘An Adult Evening With Shel Silverstein’
By Nelson Pressley
Friday, July 8, 2011
Shel Silverstein -- cartoonist, songwriter, author and playwright -- was a beautiful oddball, and his quirky comedy is the best reason to catch the hour-long “An Adult Evening With Shel Silverstein” at the Fringe. The performance (in the comfort of the Studio’s Mead Theatre) is pretty tentative, yet in most of these seven short plays the peculiar mark of Silverstein breaks through.
Obsessiveness is a big deal: in playlet after playlet, Silverstein tugs a single thread until the characters are truly rattled. In “Abandon All Hope,” a man and woman banter philosophically in front of a sign bearing Dante’s “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” unearthing very weird fears that are explosively funny. In “One Tennis Shoe,” a man worries that his wife is becoming a bag lady. He presents his screwy evidence gently, but it mounts against her.
Arturo Tolentino and Samantha Merrick are terrific in the bag lady piece -- delicate with each other, but deeply fretful about what might be happening. (Yes, that’s cooked oatmeal in her purse.) Tolentino may be a find: the empathy he displays in “Shoe” becomes immigrant street cynicism in “Wash and Dry,” a ruthless comic assault on our read-the-fine-print business culture. In both pieces, Tolentino displays an engagingly light touch.
The Actors Repertory Theatre performers are all grads of DC’s National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, and while they’re not all young, they’re mostly still a bit unseasoned. But the chance to spend an hour with Silverstein is too good to pass up, even when the writer of “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “A Boy Named Sue” is penning an entire playlet with lines rhyming in “e,” spoken by two prostitutes making brazen promises. (Hey, the show’s title promised an adult evening.)