Rebuilding the Sidewalk | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Rebuilding the Sidewalk 

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Rebuilding the Sidewalk, Pushtop 1635 Productions, at the Spare Room. Pushtop 1635--a new company founded by brothers George and Anastasios Ketsios--uses five of Shel Silverstein's best-known poems (including "Sick" and "For Sale") as a prelude to one of the writer's darker, slimier works, "The Devil and Billy Markham," first published as poetry in Playboy and later performed on double bills with David Mamet's Bobby Gould in Hell.

The children's poems are recited by four untried actors, who employ accents instead of acting and speed through Silverstein's trademark lists ("I have the measles and the mumps, a gash, a rash and purple bumps"). Happily, they're set off by Angela Freese's creative storybook sets, which include a towering pile of whimsical trash and a giant book.

From there the play--and the audience--descends into hell. "The Devil and Billy Markham" is obscene, vicious, gory, and obsessed with juvenile scatology even in this abridged version. George Ketsios is simply not experienced enough to bring humor or depth to Silverstein's extended monologue by a Nashville singer, gambler, and womanizer who throws dice with the devil, loses, and finally frees himself by threatening Satan with buggery. He eventually saves his loved ones too--except his "true love," whom he calls awful names. The distasteful moral seems to be that even hell is better than spending a lifetime with the same woman or having gay sex.

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