note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi
Mike Thomas … John P. Arnold
Barbara DeMarco … Caroline Lawton
Tony Whitcomb … Rick Park or Patrick Shea
Edward Lawrence … Richard Snee
Nick Rossetti … Michael Fennimore
Mrs. Schubert … Ellen Colton
[alumni cast members:]
Mark S. Cartier
Mary Ann Conk
Betty Gray Johnson
Kathy St. George
Nat Warren White
London may have THE MOUSETRAP and New York once boasted THE FANTASTICKS, but Boston has SHEAR MADNESS, now celebrating its silver anniversary season at the Charles Playhouse and still going strong. Who could have predicted that this send-up of an obscure German murder mystery would become the longest-running non-musical play in the history of the American theatre, reap numerous awards and spawn over fifty productions, world-wide? Actors-turned-producers Bruce Jordan and Marilyn Abrams originally scheduled their spoof for a mere 31 performances --- they even named their company Cranberry Productions, for what goes better with a turkey? --- but, twenty-five years later, SHEAR MADNESS is as fixed a Boston institution as the Public Gardens, Quincy Market and the Grasshopper. Yes, this is the show where a murder is committed upstairs over a hair salon at 155 Beacon Street (an old bitch of a concert pianist gets stabbed in the neck with a pair of hairdressing shears) and, yes, the audience gets to question the suspects, call the shots (!) when the alibis don’t wash (!) and, in the end, vote for the evening’s murderer (or ess). That’s all there is to SHEAR MADNESS but from its wordless prologue where an unsuspecting customer gets a rollercoaster of a shampoo straight through to the killer being carted off to jail, the laughs come thick and furious; the Silver Anniversary performance was my sixth attendance yet I still barked like a happy pup. (Want some trivia? Over the years the Boston production has gone through 17 barber chairs, 80 blow dryers, 225 bottles of stage blood, 165 hair brushes, 1,100 cans of hair spray, 5,000 ounces of shampoo, 1,300 bottles of nail polish, 20,000 tic tacs, 4,000 ounces of conditioner, 1,200 emery boards and 11,000 cans of shaving cream.)
What is it that keeps SHEAR MADNESS going on and on………and on? For starters, the show is different every night thanks to its audience participation and its choice of killer who is often Barbara DeMarco, the tough-as-nails salon assistant, or Eddie Lawrence, the shady antiques dealer, though on Anniversary Night, Tony the flamboyant hairdresser became the fall guy, for a change --- and the largely improvisational cast keeps up with current events for topical zingers and can sail through any snafus or catcalls that come their way. Then there is the showcase appeal: since its birth SHEAR MADNESS has hosted numerous local actors who have since become familiar faces, elsewhere, and it is not surprising to find a “biggie” coming back to rub elbows with an up-and-comer. I go for the old-fashioned, wisecracking humor that is (was?) so distinctly American and, simply, because the show is THERE --- suddenly, I’ll get into a SHEAR MADNESS mood and how nice to know it’s still running and that I will always laugh my money’s worth (one of the evening’s beauties is that it’s hard to distinguished the convulsed newcomers from the veterans).
My favorite SHEAR MADNESS moment? Without question: the Bit with the Pearls, which is but one of many, many throwaway moments and only once did I see it executed this particular way, but it floors me whenever I think about it (and, secretly, act it out): Mrs. Schubert, the play’s formidable socialite, is one of the suspects, having made an ambiguous phone call about something that “has been taken care of”. When confronted by the audience, the good lady explains that she had picked up a rope of pearls from her jeweler’s. Nick Rossetti, the hard-boiled cop, asks to see the evidence and is handed said pearls in their box. Rossetti opens the box and shows the pearls to Tony.
TONY: Oooh, nice!
Rossetti rolls his eyes and closes the box. Pause. He opens the box again and shows the pearls to Tony.
TONY: Oooh, nice!
Rossetti rolls his eyes and closes the box. Pause. He opens the box again and shows the pearls to the audience.
AUDIENCE: Oooh, NICE!
(Well……what’s YOUR favorite moment?)
There may be Bostonians who have yet to see SHEAR MADNESS or who have seen it once and then turned it over to the tourists. I say, SHEAR MADNESS needs to be seen at least twice to prove that its lightning can strike a second time. Trust me, it will --- and it has twenty-five years’ experience to back it up. (Geez: 11,000 cans of shaving cream….and counting!)