Opening Nights: An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein

A children's author drops the C-bomb in his short plays.

Silverstein was a cartoonist, songwriter ("A Boy Named Sue"; Dr. Hook's self-parody, "The Cover of the Rolling Stone"), and children's-book author. He also dabbled in short, satiric plays. This sampling of them, originally culled and performed by New York's Atlantic Theater Company in 2001, is almost criminally short. It's also occasionally interminable. Ranging from timeless insights to painfully dated skirmishes in the battle between the sexes, this assortment of unrelated pieces often resembles a hetero alternative to the Logo network's Big Gay Sketch Show. Silverstein, it seems, believed as Freud did: A cigar is seldom just a cigar, and sexual politics is the real toxic spill that no one wants to clean up. This "adult" evening is loud and abrasive, and the C-bomb gets dropped oftener than Sarah Palin's name at a Tea Party Town Hall meeting.It seems that, as a humorist, Silverstein always made certain that punch lines took a backseat to the morals of his parables. For that reason, some of what's here will make you laugh loudly; the rest settles on your skin like a rash.Among the gems: "Wash and Dry," which captures perfectly the eternal tug-of-war between indignant customers and the calloused shopkeepers who simply don't give a crap; "Blind Willie and the Talking Dog," both more touching and less affected than the Robert Downey Jr./Jamie Foxx tearjerker on a similar theme; and "Smile," in which the party responsible for the Smiley Face is taken hostage by a death squad of anti-marketing vigilantes.It's a reasonable glimpse into the quirky mind of Silverstein, who died 11 years ago this month. But while the playwright may have loved people and all their faults, not everyone is going to share the joy of having their skidmarked Underoos held up for public inspection. As with the South Park and Beavis and Butt-head movies, you'll gasp as often at the crudity as at the humor.

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