Hall review: ‘Shear Madness’ is back
SARAH HALL: Salisbury Post
Do you know which play is the longest running in American theatre, according to Guinness?
Something by Tennessee Williams maybe? or Arthur Miller? No. It’s the giddy comedy “Shear Madness” by Paul Portner. The humorous whodunit has played for 29 years in the Boston theater where it premiered in 1980, and has been performed over 10,000 times world-wide.
It is currently making its second assault on Charlotte’s funnybones. When it played at Booth Playhouse in 2006, its run was extended four times. All but two of those cast members have returned to reprise their roles, this time staged in the updated Stage Door Theater with intimate cabaret seating.
The secret to the play’s continued success is that no two performances are the same. It is partly improvised based on audience response. And the script is continually adapted to incorporate local references and current events.
Maybe if I lived in Charlotte rather than Salisbury I would know why it’s funny to say someone is from Gastonia or Pineville, or I would have laughed derisively about CPCC or nodded knowingly to references to problems with Charlotte’s police force and Wachovia. As it was, these efforts to place the action in a local setting didn’t strike a funny chord for me.
And I was only mildly amused when the cast threw in Nancy Pelosi, Sarah Palin, the Clintons, Somali pirates, and Obama’s (stimulus) package.
The humor level seemed highest after the cast departed from the script to interact with the audience and think impressively fast on their feet. That’s when the play became fresh and unpredictable enough to even crack up the cast (you would think they’d have heard everything by now).
The play is a murder mystery wrapped in a comedy. Be prepared to use your powers of observationóthere will be a quiz. You’ll be asked to decide if the murder was committed by:
Tony Whitcomb (Tom Wahl), a stereotype of swishiness, always on the fringe of frenzy, and owner of Dilworth’s Shear Madness Hair Salon. He’s like a cross between Carol Channing and a chihuahua;
Barbara Jean Devereaux (Juliana Black), the spandex-clad, high-heeled, gum-popping beautician;
Eddie Lawrence (Martin Thompson), a slick customer with a mysterious briefcase, who wants more than a haircut from Barbara Jean;
Eleanor Belk Shubert (Linda Edwards) of Myers Park, indignantly protesting, superciliously silly.
Some audience members were even suspicious of Charlotte police detectives Nick O’Brien (Jack Dillon) and Mike Thomas (Joseph Klosek).
The actors asked the audience not to give away their little secrets, so I’ll say no more about the plot.
But if you are a fan of malapropism (constipational = constitutional, Lebanese = lesbian) innuendo and just plain silly cut-ups, this play is for you.
Shear Madness performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays, at Charlotte’s Blumenthal performing Arts Center through June 6. Tickets range from $29.50-$39.50.
Call 704-372-1000 or visit www.blumenthalcenter.org.
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Winners will receive free tickets to “Shear Madness,” good any time until June 6. Winning stories will be published Web site and possibly printed in the paper.