Though the late Shel Silverstein is best remembered as an author of wryly subversive children's poetry, his 40-year career spanned a dizzying array of artistic media: songwriter-musician, cartoonist, screenwriter and playwright. His work in that latter capacity, aimed at adult audiences, forms the bulk of the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble's "Shel Silverstein Uncensored!"
Assembled by director Dan Bonnell, this evening of satirical comedy peppered with oddball songs offers some first-rate interpretive performances of material with admittedly specialized appeal.
In his whimsical kids' fables, Silverstein's embrace of inappropriate behavior was a refreshing antidote to prevailing sanitized visions of childhood. Fans will appreciate that same irreverence transposed into a grown-up key. At its best, Silverstein's writing inspires some delightfully loopy performances. A smooth-talking auctioneer (James MacDonald) offers up a woman (Martha Gehman) for sale as if she were livestock. A sadistic father (Tony Pasqualini) torments his daughter (Colleen Kane) with increasingly horrific hints about the birthday present awaiting her. The fears of a concerned husband (Daniel Zacapa) that his wife (Sarah Brooke) is turning into a bag lady prove justified as he plumbs the contents of her purse. MacDonald and Zacapa also nail the existential bickering between a blind street musician and his talking dog.
Nevertheless, Silverstein was more of a sprinter in his stage writing, and his two-character duets tend to stretch one-note concepts past their expiration date. Viewers not attuned to his quirky wavelength will likely find more belly laughs at a traditional sketch comedy show.
-- Philip Brandes
"Shel Silverstein Uncensored!" Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Call for exceptions. Ends Aug. 10. $25 to $30. (310) 477-2055. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
'Thumping Claw' is sharp in spots
"The Thumping Claw," a festival of one-acts by Asian American playwrights, returns to Actor's Playpen in Hollywood for its second season. It's a mixed bill, but its merits outweigh its disadvantages.
In the opening playlet, Carla Ching's "Dissipating Heat," the director is listed as "Anonymous," but considering the slipshod staging, one suspects the omission of the director's name was not due to modesty. The play, about three store clerks in various states of crisis, feels oddly fragmented, as if Ching had shuffled three individual monologues into one loosely linked whole. The evening goes from a whimper to a Bang, quite literally, with Michael Golamco's "Please Stand By," which stars Vivian Bang as Wendy, a young autistic woman who has been institutionalized by her sister, Audrey (Monica Hong). "Stand" provides Bang with tour-de-force opportunities in Heidi Helen Davis' solid staging, which also features Bernadette Bonfiglio as Wendy's therapist.
Short and sweetly rendered, Julia Cho's "Post It" features Tess Lina as a depressed young woman who takes a phone call from her meddling father (Paul Nakauchi), who bolsters his daughter's sagging self-confidence by relating a sweet memory of her childhood -- a tiny incident that draws his daughter back from the brink of despair. Sharply directed by Leslie Ishii, "Post It" is a miniaturist gem.
Lloyd Suh's "Happy Birthday, William Abernathy," directed by David J. Lee, concerns centenarian William Abernathy (Weston Blakesley), the white forebear of a now almost entirely Asian clan. Greg Watanabe plays Albert, William's great-grandson, who dismisses William's Archie Bunker-esque racism -- until William confides a shocking past transgression that has blighted his entire life. Exposing the hidden human cost behind the title character's "humorous" racism, the play closes "Thumping Claw" with a fitting punch.
-- F. Kathleen Foley
"Thumping Claw 2008," Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends June 21. $22. www.BrownPaperTickets.com Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.
There's a point here somewhere
It's a dilemma all too familiar in Hollywood: Two rival movie productions dealing with similar subjects must duke it out over which will get made first. Think of recent showdowns, like the Alexander the Great projects or the two Truman Capote biopics.
Daniel Goldfarb's "Adam Baum and the Jew Movie," at the Hayworth Theatre, imagines a Tinseltown race to the finish between two prestige pictures about anti-Semitism. "Soil in Utopia" is the pet project of über-producer Samuel Baum (Richard Kind), a Russian Jewish émigré and studio despot who has hired a Gentile screenwriter (Hamish Linklater) to pen the script. Their movie is up against the real-life picture "Gentleman's Agreement," starring Gregory Peck.
Goldfarb's play is entertaining for its evocation of old Hollywood as a club of fractious Jewish titans. But its attempts at making a larger statement about Jewish American identity are muddled at best. Ruling over a fictional back lot, Baum exhibits traits of a self-hating Jew. When his movie starts unraveling, Baum experiences a parallel family crisis that climaxes during the bar mitzvah of his son, Adam (Gregory Mikurak).
Rife with character inconsistencies, the play pits Jew against Gentile in a complex moral argument about . . . what exactly? Paul Mazursky directs with a sensitive ear for studio double-speak, no doubt drawing from his own experience in the movie industry. But even his capable hands can't save the play from getting tangled in its own identity politics.
-- David Ng
"Adam Baum and the Jew Movie," The Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 7 p.m.,Sundays. Ends July 20. $25 to $30. (323) 960-4442. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Providing a touch of nostalgia
On paper, the concept of grafting 21 golden oldies onto a period farce to produce a "new" old-fashioned musical comedy has potential nostalgic appeal. But in its inaugural production in its new home at North Hollywood's St. Matthew's Church, Crown City Theatre Company falls short of its ambitions with "I'm Just Wild About Harry."
For their book, co-directors William A. Reilly (who also provides piano accompaniment) and Gary Lamb turned to "Charley's Aunt," Brandon Thomas' 1892 comedy of manners. They reset the piece in 1912 Milwaukee, where college roommates Jack (Blake Edward) and Harry (Chris Shepardson) are seeking a chaperon so they can lure their love interests (Tara Brown and Tracy Mulholland) into their quarters to propose marriage. A visit from Harry's aunt (Joanne McGee) promises to meet their objective. But she cancels, so they enlist their pal Benjamin "Babbs" Babberly (Casey Zeman) to take her place in drag.
When the aunt does show up, predictable antics ensue.
Sadly, Babbs' discomfort in a wig and dress is about all the comedy the production milks; opportunities for campy amusement are ignored.
Woven into the story -- sometimes with ingenuity, sometimes arbitrarily shoe-horned -- songs by Jerome Kern, Eubie Blake, Irving Berlin and even Gilbert and Sullivan exceed the uneven singing talent. Only Brown and supporting actors Sarah French and Vsev Krawczeniuk demonstrate requisite vocal chops.
The tuneful cavalcade of standbys may cause a nostalgic smile of recognition to flit across a furrowed countenance or two, but for the most part this one is best suited to the dinner theater circuit.
"I'm Just Wild About Harry," St. Matthew's Church, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays (dark June 27 through July 6). Ends Aug. 3. $20. (818) 942-6684. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times