KPBS AIRDATE: JANUARY 19, 2001
As I said to my hairstylist when she made my hair too too electric blue, ‘Tone it down!’ And that’s my advice for the cast of “Shear Madness.” We are not deaf; we are not idiots. Lower the volume and trust the audience. It’s a small piece in a small space.
The interactive mystery/comedy is considered the longest-running non-musical in American theater history. It’s even listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. The play was written in 1978, and I’ve got to say, it sounds like it. The jokes are either so old and stale even the Borscht Belt has cinched them in and retired them. Or, even with a thousand topical and local references, they’re strictly freight train — you can see ’em coming a mile away.
“Shear Madness” was obviously put together before the PC Revolution. In this one small unisex barber shop, we meet a gum-snapping, mini-skirted, blonde bimbette haircutter; a shopaholic, philandering society matron; a shifty-eyed suspicious-looking, briefcase-carrying salesman-type; a coupla stupid cops and a screamingly fey, prancing shrieking, pink-clad, platform-shoed male hairstylist. My gay friends in the audience were cringing. “If that were a similarly overblown black stereotype,” one said, “this show would close.” So, if you don’t mind being yelled at and pandered to, you’re gonna love this show. And judging from the audience reaction, it’s gonna follow its predecessor in the Theatre in Old Town, “Forever Plaid,” and join its comic compatriot, “Triple Espresso,” in a very long local run.
But, unless it gets seriously reined in, it may not deserve to. Director/producer and co-conceiver Bruce Jordan really needs to rethink his and the actors’ choices. They don’t have to ballpeen hammer home every comic line. The physical humor doesn’t have to stoop below the Three Stooges.
The conceit here, beyond that this is all so hysterically funny, is that a murder takes place and, in the second act, which is mercifully less shrieky than the first, the audience gets to decide who the killer is. So the ending can be different every night. This is an excellent marketing strategy to ensure return visits.
But unless things quiet down, and Steve Anthony gets significantly less Queen-y and drags himself back from the Over the Top Olympic High Jump, I’m not sure folks will want to come back for more. I’m also not sure that, even in the name of comedy, this show is doing anything to further anybody’s non-stereotypical understanding of anyone. But if you don’t care about the color or cut of your theater experience, you’ll “curl up and dye” for “Shear Madness.”
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.