'Shear Madness': long-running, but short on laughs
A review of the touring production of "Shear Madness," an interactive murder mystery, at The Moore Theatre in Seattle through June 24, 2012.
Seattle Times theater critic
'Shear Madness'Through June 24, The Moore Theatre, 1932 Second Ave., Seattle; $35-$45 (877-784-4849 or www.stgpresents.org).
THEATER REVIEW |
The real question raised in the murder-mystery "Shear Madness" isn't "whodunit?" It's "who cares?"
Well, somebody does. A lot of somebodies, because this gimmicky show has run in Boston for, gulp, 32 years. And, according to its official website, the "Boston company has given birth to 42 productions in the U.S.," has been translated into foreign languages, and played worldwide in cities from Tel Aviv to Reykjavik to Melbourne.
If the new national touring edition of "Shear Madness," now playing at The Moore Theatre, is the template, it's hard to understand the phenom. Or why this clunky extended skit set in a hair salon (and adapted by Bruce Jordan and Marilyn Abrams from a play by Paul Portner) may well outlive such sharper cult concept comedies as "Menopause, the Musical" and "Bleacher Bums."
True, many of us love a good mystery. And many a community theater does the "interactive" kind, where the audience plays detective and actually decides (from night to night) who the murderer is.
In "Shear Madness" the killer could be just about any of the characters hanging around in the goofy salon of the title. All conceivably might have the motive, opportunity and moxie to murder a concert pianist living upstairs from the joint.
But before the actors eagerly ask for our input, more time is spent doling out more tired jokes, strident stereotypes and stilted local references than intriguing clues.
Watching the first act is rather like getting your hair manhandled by Tony Whitcomb (Michael Kevin Baldwin), a catty salon owner so swishy he'd make Liberace seem butch. When this shrieking retro-caricature isn't physically torturing his clients, he's making bitchy digs at everyone's (yawn) sex life.
And then there are the gargoyles, in the guise of his trashy, middle-aged co-worker, Barbara (Mary Ann Conk), and a surprisingly loyal customer, Mrs. Shubert, a grand dame of the old school. Played with panache by Lisa McMillan, she has some of the show's more amusing moments.
The shticky but slow-paced preamble to the murder involves several other male characters, whose identities are not immediately revealed (and won't be here).
The audience at a recent performance in the Moore (where the seating is limited to about half of the curtained-off orchestra section) laughed mildly at the sometimes off-the-mark refs to Capitol Hill, the Mariners, Tukwila and other familiar names. But patrons perked up when the actual sleuthing began, and the cast (mainly longtime veterans of the show) began bantering with them.
So maybe that's the secret of the show's longevity. You can keep returning, and help choose a different ending.
Love it or loathe it, one thing is no mystery: Agatha Christie has nothing to fear.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org