Writer: Paul Pörtner
Director: Bruce Jordan
Reviewer: Jamie Rosler
Part farce, part whodunit, and part choose-your-own-adventure story, Shear Madness is entertaining but weak. There is enough fun and fluff to keep most people amused and engaged, but for a production that has run and been work-shopped for several decades in various cities before opening in New York, it is not as polished as one would hope.
All of the action takes place in, or just outside of, Shear Madness salon, staffed by Tony and Barbara, and visited by a cast of characters who all end up suspects in a murder. Where the play goes from there is, to a large degree, decided by the audience. With the police officer revealed the house lights go up, and the audience is invited to help the actors reconstruct their actions up to, during, and after the murder. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone is suspicious.
The characters in this play are too similarly drawn. There are clear distinctions as to what type each person is supposed to be, and yet most of the lines they speak could just as easily come out of anyone else’s mouth. Every single character shares the personality trait of speaking in malapropisms, which only serves to continually weaken the joke as the play moves on.
Jokes abound in the form of puns, pop culture allusions from the contemporary to the dated, and barbs made just for New Yorkers. The script is built as a sort of Mad Libs™ into which the day’s or city’s relevant references can be dropped in or taken out as needed. It turns out that this isn’t the most organic way to script a production, and many of the so-called jokes feel forced into place. One joke that attempts to call Donald Trump racist is in itself a racist and poorly crafted joke that hinges on a sombrero.
There are strengths in this production. The concept is fun with mass appeal, and actor Jordan Ahnquist keeps the energy high with his portrayal of Tony Whitcomb, salon owner and scene stealer. Set design by Will Cotton is meticulous, from the bright colors of the salon walls down to the Thanksgiving decorations and New York State aesthetician’s licences. Some of the jokes will make you laugh, and the ones that don’t are followed quickly by the next attempt.
For light, easy theatrical fare, Shear Madness will suffice, but even in that milieu, it is not at the top of the must-see list this season.
Open ended run.