Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Shear Madness"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Larry Stark

"Shear Madness"

Original Co-Producer Marilyn Abrams
Original Director/Co-Prodicer Bruce Jordan
Associate Director Michael Fennimore

Tony Whitcomb....................Patrick Shea
Barbara DeMarco.....Chandra Pieragostini
Edward Lawrence................Richard Snee
Mrs. Shubert............................Mary Klug
Nick Rossetti...............Michael Fennimore
Mike Thomas.............................Joe Smith

"Shear Madness" was originally scheduled for the unheard-of lengthy run (for a gimmick-show) of thirteen week-ends in the basement bar of The Charles Playhouse. That was 1980, and come next January 29th it will start its twenty-first year of continuous performances. If you've seen the show before --- hasn't everyone? --- take a friend who hasn't and see it again. The gimmick hasn't changed: the old lady upstairs will be stabbed in the throat with a pair of scissors, and two members of Boston's Finest will enlist the aid of the audience as witnesses to determine which of the four people in a unisex hair salon on Newbury Street did the dirty deed. Beyond that --- and the finale can and does change every night --- everything you may remember about the show will probably have changed as topical references, audience interactions, and improvised bits designed by the expert cast to break each other out of character keep it alive and fresh. And the energy-level is astonishing.

Patrick Shea the ultimate hairdresser, Michael Fennimore the malapropos detective, and Richard Snee the imperious lawyer have, among them, nearly 45 years of experience working together. They drop out periodically to work in other local companies and to resharpen their acting chops, or pick up sun-lighting jobs in movies or television, but their interactive ensemble work here is sharp, intense, and timed to the split nanosecond. But the kids in the cast --- Chandra Pieragostini has been hairdresser Barbara DeMarco for a mere three years now --- mix it up toe-to-toe with their elders, and with the audience members who try to become part of the cast. Mary Klug's old-money denizen of Lewisburg Square and Joe Smith's rookie policeman each have their bits of schtick, and no one in this cast ever ignores an opportunity to improvise.

Some advice for those few who may be seeing the show for the first time, or who (like myself) only saw it once ten or twelve years ago:
1) Get there and buy your drink early, because the pre-dialog dumb-show is some of the keenest, zaniest character-setting mime work anywhere. Watch this cast bounce a bit into your lap with their eyes, slyly smirking when you get the joke. What Patrick Shea can do with a spray-can of what I hope is really whipped-cream would make any juggler die with envy --- and that's only the tip of this ensemble iceberg.
2) Remember the act-break is an integral part of the show, and Detective Rossetti will be circulating with the smokers outside and the drinkers at the bar, always in character, demanding opinions and insights and theories about the murderer/ess. Hit him with your best shot, lobby for your prime suspect, and remember that The Charles Playhouse has a Witness Protection System in place just in case you happen to finger the right party.
3) Sit back and appreciate the variety of acting-styles in this sleekly sandpapered show. Take time to watch Mary Klug's dithery-dame takes and Joe Smith's second-banana support just as much as Chandra Pieragostini's careful mispronunciations. Notice how Richard Snee's pauses balance Patrick Shea's breakneck pacing. See when and how Michael Fennimore takes back control of the stage, and why. Under the surface of the show, there are textbooks on acting and interacting being written here.
4) By all means, when the second half opens with comments solicited from the audience, play your part to the hilt. Talk it up for your candidate for the chair, speculate on motives, argue with obviously spurious ideas. There will be a vote, and the best way to influence its outcome is to talk up your choice.
5) But remember, you're dealing here with experts who have had forty-five years experience quashing hecklers. Get too enthusiastic and someone onstage may say "Wait a minute, I know that person! I just didn't recognize you with your clothes on..."
6) Keep score of how many times the cast has to suppress giggles during the show. These professionals are playing to one another as much as they are to you, and any night you just may witness a stunning bit of inspiration that will one day work itself permanently into the show. Surprises keep this show young.
7) Don't be a stranger. Drop in every four or five years or so to see what's new and to remember the basics. It'll still be here --- that's what a tradition does, after all. And, hell, at a mere twenty years, "Shear Madness" is still wet above the ears!


"Shear Madness" (till Judgement Day!)
74 Warrenton St. BOSTON

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide