Yesterday, Yulman Theater opened “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein,” directed by Jonathan Albert.
“An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” is a series of 8-10 minute absurdist vignettes woven together by the late poet, threaded in despair. Among other altercations, a homeless man vandalizes a sign into an instrument for public harassment, to his eventual chagrin.
A wife forces her disinterested husband to simulate an imaginary worst-case sinking liferaft scenario. An auctioneer peddles a woman for marital domestication. And Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout still won’t take her damn garbage out.
Even before the lights dim, Yulman Theater’s production of “Adult Evening” is undeniably Silverstein. His grungy houseboat recordings ring through the pre- and postshow, his poems bookend the show (and appear interspersed between segments) and the set is unfolded straight from his sloppy ink sketches.
The iconic “Light in the Attic” moonlights the surreal set design and stares into the audience.
In one segment, a door-to-door salesman, played by Colin Nelson ’16, attempts to push signs on a woman reveling from a failed relationship. She asks if he has any that say all the things she wished he said to her, and her to him.
Confused and very uncomfortable, he wavers in his Seussian sales routine. Silverstein escalates the scenario from quick, clever visual witticisms to unrestrained sadness, and then loops back.
Similarly, a sketch in which a distraught woman struggles to reason with an impossibly snooty laundromat owner takes a turn for forensic creepiness. The segment drags a bit in the middle section, but the aggressive chemistry between Lucy Miller ’16 and Matt Mintz ’18 and clever wordplay hoist a laundry spat to the upper echelons of bad-mannered furiosity.
Some of Silverstein’s poetry is acted out and choreographed with similar punchy pacing to the original stanzas. Towards the end, an elaborate staging of “Sylvia Stout” incorporates the entire cast and embitters the original poem with clever staging. It is easy to surmise why this sketch was put at the end of the program.
I particularly enjoyed the performances from Matt Mintz ’18 as the laundromat owner and Floraine Walcott-Taylor ’19 as a spicy customer returning a shrunken yellow blouse to a snobbish women’s apparel boutique. Walcott-Taylor’s brutish sniping elicits some of the biggest belly laughs of the evening.
Unlike his children’s stories, Silverstein’s shorts descend into an uglier, adult brand of mischief; the “not suitable for children” sticker on the poster is earned for a number of reasons.
As controlled and fluid as they play, the tonal shifts are equal parts exhilarating and exhausting.
Luckily, the show runs a breezy 80 minutes, with staged poetry intermissions serving light refreshment to domestic horror.
Despite the uncleanliness of it all, watching “Adult Evening” is akin to being a kid and experiencing Silverstein for the first time.
The production both pays tribute to, and in some ways, builds upon the bold scope of its source works.