by Steve Capra
written by Paul Portner
devised by Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan
By now, everyone in Boston knows that Shear Madness is the countrys longest-running non-musical show, and everyone knows its conceit: the audience participates, the actors improvise, blah blah blah...
I caught the sixteenth-birthday performance. It wasnt my finest critical hour, but I laughed a lot. Madness is funny - and vulgar, in the sense that Liberaces piano was vulgar.
Our more high-brow directors should note the devices that make this toy so successful. It has a non-traditional relationship with the audience, who love talking to the characters and controlling the action. It keeps its jokes current, as is indispensable to comedy. And theyre local. As theater finds a new definition as distinct from mass media, the local must become increasingly prominent. The cast varies, and they exchange roles from time to time - an indispensable adjustment for repeat attenders. Moreoever, the show was aggressively marketed. At first, the producers did everything but turn the theater into a shelter for the homeless to fill the seats. In short, Madness, commercial schlock par excellence, is making clowns of the aesthetes by pulling in audience - while the effete intellectual snobs are keeping their actors behind the proscenium, passively hoping people will come.
Note "Madness" other fail-proof device: gay-bashing. Roughly half the jokes are laughs at the expense of the hairdresser, a screaming stereotype - such a standard that it made me think of what Miss Yaleppa says to Gypsy:" the same old jokes that two-bit comics have been sayin since the year one." In fact, its worse than standard. Its low.
Directed and designed by Bruce Jordan
with (in various combinations) Kathy St. George, Mark S. Cartier, Thomas
Oullette, Patrick Shea, Richard Snee, Paul Dunn, Michael Fennimore, Mary
Klug, Nancy Carroll
at the Charles Playhouse Stage I 74 Warrenton Street