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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The immaturity of the ‘Adult’ show

Published: October 29, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

Brandeis Players’ production of “An Adult Evening with Shel Silverstein” was funny, raunchy and immature.

When I was in elementary school, I loved Silverstein’s poetry. “Where The Sidewalk Ends” and “A Light In the Attic” were touchstones that I would turn to whenever I was feeling gloomy and needed a laugh. So when I saw that the Brandeis Players were putting on a play by Silverstein, I knew I had to go. I wondered what Silverstein’s sly and comedic poems would look like on stage.

This was the wrong frame of mind to view this play. “An Adult Evening with Shel Silverstein” bears little resemblance to his poetry. The play is a series of one-act scenes that vary in subject from an auctioneer selling off a woman like a slave to a girl realizing and recoiling from the horror that her dad shot her birthday pony. All of the scenes contain crude elements that strip them of the whimsical style that Silverstein is noted for in his poems.

While the play deals with “adult” (primarily sexual) content, there is something immature and childlike about Silverstein’s approach to his subject matter. In “Bus Stop,” in which a lewd drunk stops a woman because she has large breasts—a “bust” stop,—the drunk slurs every conceivable slang term and epithet for a girl’s chest. The woman turns the tables, grabs the “bust” sign, beats the drunk with it and uses every word in the English language for penis.

This sketch was funny and well-staged. A streetlight lit on stage-left revealed the drunk sitting slumped on a park bench on stage-right. Yet the content of the sketch is like Silverstein shouting all the dirty words he knows at the top of his lungs and then smiling over his own naughty cleverness. A lot of the play was like that.

In “Going Once” an auctioneer gives the audience a sales pitch for a woman named Annie. He grabs her chest and her butt to prove that he is selling real merchandise. He gives the audience a preview by having Annie remove her shirt. During his spiel he jokes that he isn’t a slave driver, “I ain’t driving her, I’m selling her.”

Ben Gold ’13 was pitch-perfect as the auctioneer. He managed to hold the audience’s attention and entertain them in what is essentially a monologue. In fact, the audience couldn’t look away.

But what is off-putting about the sketch is that there is no substance except shock value.

The auctioneer says to the audience, “You’re offended.” Silverstein hopes that his audience is offended. He wants to shock. Yet, he does so with no other purpose. While in “Going Once,” Silverstein chides the audience because agents in the entertainment industry essentially “auction” their female stars, this motivation for the sketch is not convincing. The sketch is just too overloaded with statements and gestures meant to titillate rather than to encourage thinking.

But is that the point of this play? To make its audience think? No, of course not. The point is to make its audience laugh. I came to the production to laugh and I did, a lot. This was mostly due to the talent of the acting.

In “The Lifeboat is Sinking” Emily Rubin-Falcone ’13 plays a wife attempting to get her husband to participate in an imaginary boat-is-sinking scenario where he has to choose either their family or his mother. As she enacts the scenario through charades, Falcone is able to immerse the audience into the melodrama of the scene. It’s convincing when the husband is drawn-in, because the audience is equally drawn-in, emphasizing the comedy of the piece.

Similarly, in a discordant moment in the scene he calls her a vile slur for making him play the game and the audience thinks he is justified. This is why the play’s lack of substance with shock value in its place is troubling. There are so many instances in which women are cursed at or tricked because of their gullibility or portrayed as sexual objects when there is no powerful reason for it. In those cases, I laughed because of the great talent of the actors, but came away feeling a little slimy because of the content.

In contrast, both acting and content worked well together when Silverstein wasn’t overcompensating. In “The Best Daddy,” both Daniel Liebman ’12 and Corrie Legge ’14 gave hysterical performances. The set-up is that a father gets his daughter a pony for her birthday; unfortunately, he shot it. Liebman plays the father with an “aw-shucks” vibe, a father trying to please his daughter on her birthday. This is extremely effective as his daughter thinks he has done more and more outrageous and horrible things. Legge as the daughter has a funny moment when she reminisces about the things she would have done with her pony. Legge captures this innocent and spoiled girl perfectly.

This scene was one of the few that reminded me of Silverstein’s poems; it was witty and funny and strangely dark. I wish the rest of the play had been like that.