Sunday, October 6, 2019

Review of "Shear Madness"

Almost 40 years ago, Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan came up with the idea for a theatrical experience wrapped around an interactive murder-mystery comedy.  The show, Shear Madness, has been playing ever since in Boston and elsewhere around the world, making it one of the longest running non-musicals in history.

A production of this entertaining, somewhat daffy show has alighted at the Ivoryton Playhouse through October 6th. 

The plot takes place in a hair salon run by Tony Whitcomb (Jordan Ahnquist), the outwardly gay proprietor and his bosomy, flighty assistant, Barbara DeMarco (Siobhan Fitzgerald).  The landlady, a reclusive, world-class concert pianist, is murdered and the two hairdressers, along with an aged, prim and proper socialite, Mrs. Shubert (Lisa McMillan), and a local antiques dealer, Eddie Lawrence (Bill Mootos), all who were within the confines of the business at the time of the deed, are the main suspects.  Two local detectives – Mikey Thomas (Lev Harvey) and Nick O’Brien (Patrick Noonan) - take charge of the case.

After the murder has been revealed the lights go up in the theater and Lieutenant Lawrence turns to the audience for help in solving the mystery and reconstructing the crime.  At the play’s conclusion, the audience votes for their choice of whodunit, which could change at every performance, and then the guilty party is led off in handcuffs.   

Shear Madness is enjoyable and diverting as long as you are in the spirit for audience interaction.  Unlike, say The Mystery of Edwin Drood, where the audience participation comes at the end of the show in a vote for the killer, in Shear Madness the more engaging the crowd – yelling out questions, interjecting their thoughts, or catching an inconsistent plot twist – the more winning the experience.

Paul Portner, listed as the writer of the play, has localized the setting to Essex, CT.  He also incorporates numerous cultural and political references as well as mentioning local landmarks and businesses.  Some of these citations are so current you wonder if the writer is sitting off-stage constantly sending in rewrites.

All six actors are game for the shenanigans and slightly improvisational nature of the show.  They are led by Patrick Noonan’s Lieutenant O’Brien, the ringleader of the cast.  He barks out orders to the performers on-stage and is, in a sense, the Master of Ceremonies, as he cajoles, questions, and charms the audience to help solve the mystery.  Jordan Ahnquist is suitably over-the-top as the campy hairdresser and the other cast members are equally appealing.

Director Bob Lohrmann, a veteran of the long-running Washington, D.C. production of the show (30+ years), keeps the play light and breezy.  The pacing is non-stop amusement whether the rapid-fire jokes make their mark or not. 

Set Designer Daniel Nischan has suitably created the interior of a well-appointed salon.

Shear Madness, droll at best, playing at the Ivoryton Theater through October 6th.

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