Yellow Springs Theater Company presents ‘An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein’

By Tim Walker

Photo: (l-r) J. Gary Thompson, Rob Campbell, Tony Williams, and Ellen Ballerene in ‘An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein’; photos: Amy Wamsley

Shocking. Outrageous. Raunchy. The majority of people would never use words such as these to describe the works of Shel Silverstein, the beloved author and poet who passed away in 1999 and whose children’s books—“The Giving Tree,” “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” and “Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book”—have sold over 20 million copies worldwide. But the majority of people also don’t realize that there was much more to Silverstein’s oeuvre than books for young readers. The author, no Dr. Seuss, was also a gleefully vulgar singer/songwriter, screenwriter, writer of mystery fiction, and cartoonist.

On Saturday, May 6, the Yellow Springs Theater Company proudly presented a live performance of “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein.” The evening’s performance, which I attended, took place at Emporium Wines and Underdog Café in Yellow Springs while Friday’s performance was presented at the Herndon Gallery at Antioch College. The production was directed by Amy Wamsley and produced by Lorrie Sparrow-Knapp.

“Right now, this kind of partnership with the Emporium, with the Herndon Gallery, and with the local Presbyterian Church, it’s a very magical time for us,” Sparrow-Knapp says. “We are making theatre not because we have a space and we need to fill it, not because we need to do a season—we need to make theatre. We want to make theatre.”

That enthusiasm for the art of live performance was certainly shared by the ensemble company on-stage during the show. Featuring masterful actors Ellen Ballerene, Rob Campbell, Kayla Graham, J. Gary Thompson, and Tony Williams, the show consisted of a series of short vignettes, all written by Silverstein, with each displaying the author’s decidedly twisted and definitely adult sensibilities.

The substantial audience, which filled the Emporium, laughed from the opening of the show until the very end. As an added bonus, between each of the show’s vignettes, as sets and actors were changed, a selection of Silverstein’s often explicit, sexually-charged blues songs played. Throw in an audience mellowed by the Emporium’s wine tasting, which took place just prior to the performance, and it made for an enjoyable and sometimes riotous evening.

Silverstein wrote hundreds of short plays during his career, tiny little vignettes that usually feature two to three actors and probe and explore the foibles and idiosyncrasies of modern life. For example, “One Tennis Shoe,” which opened the show, featured a couple sitting in a coffee shop while a bored barista worked in the background. The male half of the couple expresses his concern that the female is on her way to becoming a “bag lady,” and begins to dig through her large purses to prove his point. After he discovers various items that she has been lugging around the city—a hubcap, one tennis shoe, a small frame, a bowl of oatmeal—the woman begs the man to slap her and prevent her from becoming one of those crazy ladies she sometimes sees in the city who walk around, muttering to themselves. The vignette was presented well, with charm and wit, and the actors brought enthusiasm to the short piece and captured the crowd’s interest right from the start.

“Bus Stop” followed next. The vignette featured a young woman approaching a bus stop that has been rechristened a “Bust Stop” by the creepy guy standing nearby. After he explains, he regales her with a string of comments and leering euphemisms aimed at her breasts. “Headlights,” “mams,” and “jugs” make appearances, along with “titties”—“tits,” he tells her, is disrespectful and he doesn’t like the word. She then turns the situation around on him and shuts him up by unleashing a string of derogatory and hilarious names for the penis. Great performances highlighted this piece and brought it to life, and the audience loved it.

Other Silverstein-written short plays presented during the evening’s performance included “Wash and Dry,” “Willie the Talking Dog,” “Going Once,” and “Buy One, Get One Free,” in which two prostitutes sing a song and unsuccessfully try to convince a potential John to spring for their two-for-one special. It is easy to see why the village of Yellow Springs supports the company that has been presenting stylish productions for three years now.

When asked what is next up for the Yellow Springs Theater Company, Sparrow-Knapp says the company will perform Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” this July in an outdoor performance, which she will direct. That production will be free and open to the public, and if the Yellow Springs Theater Company’s past performances are any indication, area locals who enjoy community theater should definitely make plans to attend.

Yellow Springs Theater Company presents ‘An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein’ Friday, May 12 in the Herndon Gallery at Antioch College, 1 Morgan Place in Yellow Springs and Saturday, May 13 at Emporium Wines and The Underdog Cafe, 233 Xenia Ave. in Yellow Springs. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 for the show and  $20 with wine tasting at Saturday’s show. For more information and ticket prices, please visit Facebook.com/YSTCOhio.

 

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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