August 6, 2004





The ideas seem to be cut short


Shel Silverstein was an American original, a puckish beatnik swinger-songwriter who also created some of the most enduring children's books of the 1960s and '70s.


His "adult" works appear less enduring, based on the evidence of "Shel's Shorts," a sampling of startlingly unfunny playlets being given a modest production at the posh Santa Monica hair salon Kuttingroom.


These are mostly brief two-character sketches based on simple contradictions: A couple bicker over annoying habits, service personnel lock horns with customers, fully armed lovers spar over who'll shoot first. The writing tends toward repetition and witless profanity.


There are exceptions. "The Lifeboat Is Sinking" spins out a twisted psychological "exercise" involving a husband (Charlie Van Erman) and a wife (Jennifer Lamar), deftly satirizing the push-pull of marital drama. "No Skronking" has whiffs of Ionesco and the evening's only inspired exchange: When a diner (Jack Maxwell, fine throughout) asks a waitress (Caroline Westheimer) what "skronking" is, she mutters a demurral and reiterates a sign's warning: "No skronking." In the otherwise flimsy "All Cotton," Jen Fitch nails a shop girl's false sunniness.


Director Pamela Dresser doesn't use the salon playing area with any effect except in "The Dreamers," a dark dialogue between two janitors about their transgressive urges, well played by Henry LeBlanc and Patrick Hancock.


It's great to make an audience collaborate in conjuring a play's world, sans elaborate design elements. But "Shel's Shorts" is an imagination drain. We're stuck picturing how these plays might be done better until we realize they're not worth the effort.

Rob Kendt


"Shel's Shorts," GuerilLA Theatre at Kuttingroom, 1221 2nd St., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Ends Aug. 28. $20. (323) 650-2493. Running time: 90 minutes.