Saturday, 19 September 2009

Theatre Review: Shear Madness, at the Charles Playhouse Stage II (Boston)

Shear Madness opened at the Charles Playhouse in Boston in January 1980. I saw the play in the early 1980's, and again in July of this year. Same theatre, same single set, still good entertainment value, and now an institution in Boston and several other cities.

A show only runs for 30 years if it has a lot going for it, and Shear Madness has quite a bit. A small, intimate and relaxed bar-style theatre, colourful characters, dynamic audience participation, and a humourous script that allows for continuous updating and impromptu throw-in lines drawn from current events. The show feels remarkably fresh, which does not say much for the evolution of real-world hair salon interior design over the past 30 years.

An assortment of customers, including an aging socialite and a shady businessman, gather at a rather tacky hair salon, run by Tony and his assistant Barbara. Upstairs is an annoying landlady, a has-been concert pianist, who is heard on the piano but never seen. The characters gathered at the salon, all of whom seem to have a motive to dislike the landlady, find excuses to wander in and out of the salon, and the pianist is finally killed off-stage. It turns out that two of the hair salon customers are undercover detectives, and one of the other characters is the murderer -- but which one?

The detectives seek the participation of the audience to sort through the motivations and actions of the suspects, and the play has multiple endings depending on the audience input.

It is all good, light-hearted fun, with a shortish running time of about 80 minutes, and an energetic pace. The performers are dedicated but never take any of it too seriously, stressing entertainment over art. Most of the comedy works, the laughs arrive at a steady stream, and the interaction with the audience is well-managed.

With Shear Madness now more of a landmark than a show, the production can probably carry on for another 30 years or so -- assuming the rickety Charles Playhouse building remains fit for occupancy.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't been to the Boston show, but I just saw the show Shear Madness at the Capiatlk Repitory Theatre in Albany NY and it was absolutely hilarious. It was so good, I went back and saw it again on its closing day on Sept 20th. Congratulations on hitting the 30 year mark. Fantastic.


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