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Studio Theatre – Mead Theatre, 1501 14th Street NW

Remaining Performances: 

Saturday, July 16th, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 20th, 10 p.m. Saturday, July 22nd, 6 p.m.

They say: “Please leave the kids at home! The beloved children’s author shows a different side in these twisted, darkly comic exposes of our human frailties that will make you laugh, even as they make you squirm. Seriously, don’t bring the kids.”

Derek’s Take: Ahoy, dazed sailors of the steamship Life! Let go of that rusty handrail, pull off your amulets, and toss your swimmies overboard… Captain Shel, with an energetic assist from the Actors Repertory Theatre, will give LOL voice and slapstick movement to your frustrated existence! Thus is the promise, largely fulfilled, of An Adult Evening…, a series of seven sketches awash in sophisticated camp. Whether tackling the absurd or themes bordering dangerously close to reality, this light-hearted hour ups the ante on the petty challenges and twisted poetry of the everyday and, in doing so, transforms life’s conundra into something bearable and, perhaps, quaint.

The sketches are essentially two-person scenes that bend the limits of logic and language with often gut-wrenching comic effect. The performance opens with a lackluster meditation on trespass. What does it mean, then, if one chooses – or chooses NOT – to enter an area marked “Abandon All Hope?” The scene reveals Silverstein’s gift for managing tension, building and releasing it as his zany Truth dictates, and packing in stakes-raising perspective changes that fuel the action. The show picks up steam through its second beat, but it’s in the third, a fanciful, sing-songy come-on by a couple of linguist-hookers, that it truly takes flight.

Sherilee and Merilee’s compelling proposition – “Buy one, get one free!” – plays out in an endless, rhyming menu of skanky services. Here, Dena Colvin and Julie Harris, luminous in their fishnets and bright-red bustiers, proceed through their cascade of “ee” sounds with fluid ease, promising both good times and discretion to wary horn-dogs suffering from “frigid unrigidity” and other unspeakable maladies. Their performances evoke the archetype of the high-priced call girl  — theirs is a brothel out of Eliot Spitzer‘s dreams.

Another highlight hits a little closer to home. In “The Life Boat is Sinking,” a high-strung wife and mother presents her husband with an unsolvable scenario: their bed is not a bed, but a sinking dinghy whose four passengers will certainly die unless one of them is thrown overboard. Oh, and the passengers? That would be Mom, Dad, baby, and mother-in-law. Pop-quiz, hotshot – who do you sacrifice? The answer’s obvious from the start, but the tortured path to getting there provides a rare moment for physical comedy in this otherwise very talky show. Samantha Merrick’s bed-bound calisthenics and insistent interrogation propel this scene, which is nothing if not an advertisement for perpetual singledom.

It’s refreshing to see that, in a form that can shortchange women, the show’s female characters play prominent, if not dominant, roles in every sketch, leaving the men with much less to do. But fear not, man-folk – Shel’s written a hero for you too. In “Wash and Dry,” Arturo Tolentino stands out as a wizened immigrant hip to the uses of fine-print and blackmail, turning an erstwhile laundry into something bordering on a criminal enterprise. It’s a clever comment on the chronic word-play, self-serving motivations, and blasé attitudes that can frustrate our existence, but at the same time make America home. Much the same can be said for the rest of the show – it’s a polished nugget that, although hardly groundbreaking, will never insult your intelligence.

See it if: If the idea of experimental, “Fringy” theater terrifies you. This show qualifies as safe, can’t-miss entertainment.

Skip it if: You cringe at the thought of marauding, Korean ass-assassins.