Shel Silverstein, the beloved children's writer, illustrator, poet, songwriter and playwright whose "The Giving Tree" and "Where the Sidewalk Ends" touched millions of readers, was found dead in his Key West, FL., home May 10. He was 67.
The cause of death was thought to be a heart attack, suffered perhaps May 9.
As a playwright, Mr. Silverstein wrote one-acts, sketches and playlets that found an Off-Broadway home over the years in the Ensemble Studio Theatre's one-act "Marathon" series. Among his works at E.S.T. were The Lady or the Tiger (1981) with Richard Dreyfuss, Remember Crazy Zelda? (1984), One Tennis Shoe (1985), Little Feet (1986), The Trio (1998) and a collection of short pieces and songs called The Crate (1985). In 1983, three one-acts (I'm Good to My Doggies, Chicken Suit Optional and the reworked The Lady or the Tiger Show) were grouped together as Wild Life for an Off-Broadway run at the Vandam Theater.
Mr. Silverstein's association with E.S.T. began when the playwright Herb Gardner introduced Silverstein and E.S.T. artistic director Curt Dempster. "Herb knew Shel had all these plays but Shel was always a little shy about coming out into the mainstream theatre world, because he didn't know how to function in it," Dempster told Playbill On-Line May 11.
He called Mr. Silverstein a unique talent whose work was always "quirky" and "dark" but enriched with a "giddy sense of humor." The two had spoken two weeks before Mr. Silverstein's death about an upcoming E.S.T. reading of a new Silverstein one-act, A Complete Set. Besides Mr. Silverstein's one-acts, Dempster said, there is an unproduced Silverstein adaptation of Hamlet, with music, that exists.
E.S.T. workshopped it, but it has not been fully produced.
The Trio, directed by frequent collaborator Art Wolff in E.S.T.'s Marathon 1998, starred Laurence Luckinbill, Elizabeth Page and Janet Zarish. It concerned a violinist demoted by her conductor -- who's also her lover. A classical trio was on hand.
In 1989, Mr. Silverstein's one-act, The Devil and Billy Markham, was paired with David Mamet's one-act, Bobby Gould in Hell, under the umbrella title, Oh, Hell!
Billy Markham was a monologue of rhymed jive talk in which a musician recounted losing a bet with the devil. The plays were directed by Gregory Mosher and produced by Lincoln Center Theater Dec. 3-31, 1989. Dennis Locorriere starred.
Mr. Silverstein and Mamet co-wrote the screenplay to "Things Change" (1988).
As a songwriter, he wrote the Johnny Cash hit, "A Boy Named Sue," and the Academy Award-nominated "I'm Checkin' Out," for the film "Postcards From the Edge."
His is survived by his son, Matthew.