review: shear madness

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[originally published: http://aislesay.com/CHI-SHEAR-06.html%5D

SHEAR MADNESS

by Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan
Directed by Bruce Jordan
TheatreDreams by arrangement with
Major Production and Mario Tricoci
The Chicago Theatre Downstairs
175 North State Street / (312) 902-1500
shearmadnesschicago.com
Open ended run

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
September 25, 2006

The show that is everywhere and a new experience every time — in scores of cities around the world, with a number of resident companies with open-ended runs. After 7,220 performances in Chicago at the old Blackstone Hotel between September 1982 and November 1999, “Shear Madness” and its interactive murder mystery and slapstick entertainment set in a hair salon has returned in a new 281 seat performance space on the lower level of the Chicago Theatre. From the response on (re)opening night, the audience for this show eagerly shouted questions and clues, vocally followed the action (“no, not through that door!”) and generally had a fabulous time. If you’re looking for a solid good time with Aunt Mabel or just a brief return to vaudeville and a fine set of comedic actors, visit the Chicago Theatre Downstairs any evening. You won’t be disappointed.

Opening night’s performance was very Carol Burnett Show, those fabulous moments in sketches when Carol and Harvey and Tim would break each other up over line readings and a good bon mot one of them managed to deliver. Our core plot remains what it always has been: a hair salon’s several employees work on established customers and some new visitors, and their landlady and piano playing diva upstairs is killed, all have possible motivations, and depending on the votes of the audience and the way the clues run on any particular evening, the mystery is solved during the course of the performance.

The shop employees Tony Whitcomb (John McGivern) and Barbara Demarco (played at our performance by lovely Robin Long) keep the place hopping and provide plenty of shtick involving hairdressing implements and shampoo. Customers include the malapropism queen Mrs. Shubert ( glorious Glory Kissel) and Edward Lawrence (Mick Weber). Two additional visitors who appear to be customers but have a secret are another malapropism master Nick Pulaski (Christopher Tarjan) and his partner Mike McFarland (Benjamin Reigel). All bounce off each other amiably, and create distinct characters, and comfortably ad lib in the course of the production.

Part farce, part theatre games, part audience participation, this is an event in a theatre to which most human beings will happily respond. The relentless banter delivers established and timely jokes, repartee and references. In my performance, for example, Ford layoffs, bagged spinach, Governor Ryan’s prison sentence, “myspace.com”, and something that “dropped faster than Tom Cruise’s career” made appearances. “Shear Madness” is precisely what we have been led to expect after twenty plus years of global performances.

© Martha Wade Steketee (September 25, 2006)

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