New Age Stage Play

Toni Silver is an equal dash of comedy and earnestness

Advertisement for Shame Lips | Photo: Joe Shahadi

On a cold, windy night, there seemed no cozier place to be than the small, reconverted butcher shop on Kirchengasse. The shiny, enveloping black cushions beckoned from the center of the floor as the audience, a small but enthusiastic group of students and middle-aged couples, trickled in one by one.

“The Lovely and Talented Ms. Toni Silver,” turned slowly to face the small audience like a runaway actor from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, sporting a rainbow tutu instead of a coat of many colors.  At first, the ballerina garb seemed an odd choice for a middle-aged woman taking part in the Lustige Weiber: Subversive Frauen im Theater, a series of seven different women with humorous takes on life – after all, she is both Jewish and lesbian – until she recalled her scariest memory.  It took place at the final ballet performance on the last day of summer camp.

“There I stood,” she intoned solemnly, “in the dead middle of the stage and couldn’t remember a single step.  So I ran like hell.”

Silver’s fears that sent her running from the stage are long since gone. That tonight’s production of Shame Lips, Silver bared her vivacious soul to the whitewashed theater in the shadow of the grand Volkstheater, taking us on a breathless sprint through the break-ups and breakdowns of her colorful and dizzying life.

A native of Long Island and a current member of the performance collective group titled Temporary/Industrial Arts, Silver has been writing and performing her own solo work since 1998. With her very own vaudeville show, A Cab is Cheaper than A Funeral, first premiered in 1999 at the Fringe Festival in Philadelphia and Leave Her to Beaver in 2003, an up-close and humorous look at the three main turning-points of her life, Silver has established herself as a woman unafraid to get up-close and personal with the errors of her ways.

With an equal dash of comedy and earnestness, she tempers the gravity of her stint in a mental rehabilitation center (“the nuthouse”) after a suicide attempt by comically and vociferously imitating the voices of her nutty roommates.  Sometimes this bawdy humor and ability to poke fun at her own goof-ups overshadows her admirable moments. When she described coming out to her parents, I was too busy laughing at her uncanny mother imitation to fully appreciate the courage it must have taken to finally speak the truth. Sometimes one wonders, if a little more gravity might be injected into some of her tougher transitional periods in life. When she discusses her suicide attempt, she attributes it to simply “hating herself.” After dishing about her romantic affairs, worst fears, secret desires, etc., she suddenly withdraws from the audience – withholding vital information. I wanted to know more.

Although the show is all about her, Silver is in no way a self-centered performer. She connects and engages the audience every tap-dancing step of the way – be it with her neurotic voice imitations or a steamy impression of her first kiss at Girl Scout Camp. She possesses an innate way of making the audience feel included in her past life.

For instance, after recalling several lost loves and misguided affairs, she gave an intimate grin and said, “And then I met my Austrian.” I noticed the audience breaking into smiles around me.  However, Ms. Silver’s material is not limited to herself as a subject alone. Booby Traps Everywhere, concerning the after effects of 9/11, was shown a mere 12 days after the attack in Manhattan. Patriot Act, a collaboration piece with producer Joseph Shahadi, seeks to humorously expose why the Patriot Act is unconstitutional.

In a second segment, Jenny Simanowitz’s Sex and Business (a “communications cabaret”) presented a fresh and funny look at women’s place, suggesting why women need to begin taking initiative, even if it means taking a few tips from men, to “get on top” (pun intended).

A native of South Africa, Simanowitz has lived in four other countries, and currently lectures at the University of Economics in Vienna, the Teacher’s College at the University of Vienna, and the Academy of Management in Graz. She puts her professional skills to good use by holding workshops to help women get a leg up in the corporate and business worlds. Her female-feel-good performance even included a little public “boasting time” for the women – and listening time for the men.

Although both shows varied from moments of hilarity to thoughtful reflection about life, both women managed to leave the audience with a few nuggets of hard-earned truths. But I’ll let the “Lovely and Talented Ms. Toni Silver” and Jenny Simanowitz share them with you themselves.


“Lustige Weiber: Subversive Frauen im Theater”
14.- 20. March, 2010, 19:30
7., Kirchengasse 37
(01) 524 07 38

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