EmptyVenue: Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, West Los Angeles (Through Aug. 10).
When Shel Silverstein was in his heyday as a cartoonist for Playboy (1957 through the mid-'70s), songwriter (Grammy winner "A Boy Named Sue") and author of popular children's books ("Where the Sidewalk Ends"), he also was busy writing short, satiric plays more in the line of sketch humor. It has to be said that of his many talents, the plays are least likely to stand the test of time.
But time is just one of the problems with "Shel Silverstein Uncensored!" an eclectic evening of short plays and songs devised by director Dan Bonnell. These dated pieces might have been considered slightly daring in their time, if only because Silverstein was an iconoclast with a whimsical sense of humor. Now most of them seem simply silly, mirthless, obvious or muddled, a cocktail unlikely to intoxicate.
The evening gets off to a poor start with a slight piece about a man (Daniel Zacapa) who accuses his wife (Sarah Brooke) of turning into a bag lady because of all the junk she totes around. The rhythm and feel of the sketch brings to mind early Nichols and May at first, but the one-joke idea wears out its welcome long before it ends.
Two pieces are based on misunderstandings about words. In one, a woman (Colleen Kane) is badly treated and blackmailed at a laundry because she mistakes "Watch and Dry" for "Wash and Dry." In the other, a sign that appears to say "Bus Stop" actually says "Bust Stop," leading to an abusive war of words between a man and woman. We go from a barrage of synonyms for breast to a deluge of synonyms for penis, with the woman finally gaining the upper hand. Several of the pieces focus on the battle of the sexes, with the male often getting the worst of it.
The evening's most amusing piece centers on a 10-year-old girl (a very funny Kane) whose father (Tony Pasqualini) is tormenting her on her birthday by lying about his gift. Of all the sketches, this one appears to be the most emotionally open and honest, which is probably why it touches a nerve with the audience. Most everything else has a gimmicky feel or suggests that Silverstein is hiding his true feelings.
Maybe that' why the evening closes with a cross-dressing ball in which the actors convey that, when it comes to gender things aren't always what they seem. We're left with the impression that Silverstein's psyche is the real subject of the evening, only we've been given no more than a glimpse of this troubled terrain.
Cast: Sarah Brooke, Colleen Kane, James MacDonald, Martha Gehman, Daniel Zacapa, Tony Pasqualini. Playwright: Shel Silverstein. Director: Dan Bonnell. Set Designer: Charles Erven. Lighting Designer: Jeremy Pivnick. Costume Designer: Gelareh Khalioun.