Sunday, March 18, 2012

Childhood Skewed South of Downtown

Shel Silverstein and Free 2 B U & ME open next week

By Russ Bickerstaff
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On March 22nd of next week, there are a couple of shows opening up that explore slightly skewed mutations of what some of us so fondly remember from our childhoods.

At 7:30 pm next Thursday, Alchemist Theatre presents Free 2 B U & Me.  It’s strange . . . a musical based on a 1974 ABC Afterschool Special that was originally released as an album in ’72. It was a program of shorts that individuality, tolerance and gender neutrality among other things. It may have been a mid-‘70’s thing, but this was highly acclaimed and continued to be common educational fare in grade schools for many, many years afterwards. I remember watching the video in grade school in the early ‘80’s. I’d only seen the thing once, but some of those sketches are still remarkably vivid for me. It’s been decades since I’ve seen that thing and just hearing the title conjures pretty vivid memories of the theme song as well. It was evidently written by a couple of guys who did work for Sesame Street as well.

The live stage show inspired by the early ‘70’s classic comes to the stage of the Alchemist Theatre courtesy of Project Empty Space. It’s directed by Christy Hall Watson & Erica Case. If this is successful, can a production of Shoolhouse Rock LIVE! be far off?

Project Empty Space’s  Free 2 B U & Me runs March 22nd – 31st.

It’s interesting looking through the list of segments that were on the original album. Evidently Tom Smothers performed a piece by Shel Silverstein called “Helping.”

Silverstein, of course, did much more than the children’s fare so many of us remember him for. That surrealistic wit at the heart of A Light In The Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends also wrote a great many other things, not the least of which included some pretty strange shorts. A man shoots the pony he bought his daughter for her birthday. A man specifically goes to track down and punish them an responsible for coming up with the phrase, “have a nice day.” A woman auctions herself off. A man claims his wife is becoming a bag lady. These shorts aren’t necessarily in there. (Silverstein wrote over 100 shorts) but this IS the type of humor Silverstein worked with in his shorts . . . theirs is a recurring question of power and authority in his work that can be completely serious one moment and then lapse into absurdist comedy the next.

An evening of shorts by Silverstein is being staged at Carte Blanche.

It’s opening just an hour and a half after opening curtain of Free 2 B U & Me over at the Alchemist.

Shel Shocked: Shel’s Shorts by Shel Silverstein runs March 22nd – April 1st. Opening night’s performance is at 9pm. The show is directed by Adam White. 

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