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Improv murder Shear Madness still a success


Charles Playhouse.

74 Warrenton Street.

Shows Tuesday to Friday 8 p.m., Saturday 6:30 and 9:30 p.m., Sunday 3 and 7:30 p.m.

By John Rae

A third of the way through Paul Porter's Shear Madness, Lieutenant Rossetti (Paul Dunn) looks to the audience and states: "This is where you come in!" Up until this point, the audience has simply been watching the daily routine at Shear Madness, a unisex hair salon located on Newbury Street in Boston, but now they're a part of the mystery. Those of you who fear the thought of being involved can relax. When Lt. Rossetti tears down the wall between actors and audience, the patrons of Shear Madness are more startled and squeamish at the thought of exposure then we are.

Shear Madness is the comic mystery from Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan's, adapted for the city in plays in. It's currently in its 16th season, and the small stage at the Charles Street Theater perfectly suits the cheerfully revolting barbershop set. This six-character play is amusing at the least, as the audience attempts to help two Boston Police detectives discover the killer of Isabel Czerny, the eccentric concert pianist who lives above the Salon.

The audience acts as witnesses to the event, pointing out clues, corroborating testimony, and sometimes yelling at the inept police officers, all of which trigger hysterical responses and improvisational comedy from the actors. The show reaches a climax as the audience votes on who it believes is the killer, leading to the wacky conclusion.

The comedy in the play is excellent, but the acting is mediocre at parts. It's the over-the-top style they're looking for, which works in some cases but not others. The elderly Mrs. Schubert's (Mary Klug) falsely pretentious attitude hits the desired note, but Barbara DeMarco's (Marina Re) horrible Boston/Revere (pronounced: Ra'veah) accent just didn't cut it. Ken Cheeseman was excellent as the gay stylist Tony Whitcomb, especially in his chemistry with Lt. Rossetti. Eddie Lawrence (Eddie Rutkowski) was definitely the cream of the crop with his sleazy defensive style.

The secret to Shear Madness is creating the appearance of spontaneity even when some parts have been preprogrammed. Depending on the mood of the audience, the cast is given freedom to create material which promises to keep you on the edge of your seat with laughter. Improv jokes like, "Yeah, if I'd killed her I would of stabbed her, or shot her, or put her on Value Jet," are the norm. These jokes are even funnier when the actors have to control their own laughter. The secret to enjoying this play is to get into it. Yell out your ideas and let the actors play off you.

For me the best part of the play comes now - when I can tell you who did it. It was Barbara Demarco, the insane manicurist from hell. Don't worry - I didn't spoil it for you. Every show is different, and the outcome changes every night.

Shear Madness is playing indefinitely at the Charles Playhouse. A good time to go is Friday nights in October, when tickets are only 10 dollars.