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Shear Madness

Consistently Different

By Seth Bisen-Hersh

Staff Writer

Charles Playhouse, Stage II

74 Warrenton Street, Boston

More information at (617) 426-5225

Playing indefinitely

Tickets around $34

W hat play has been running even longer than Cats has been on Broadway? In fact, what is the longest running play in the world? For that matter, what are the second- and the third-longest running plays in the world? Why, all three are the smash murder-mystery/comedy, Shear Madness. Over four million people have seen this hysterical play worldwide. Opening in Boston in January 1980, Shear Madness has since then traveled to over 30 other cities, where it has always been a smash hit. The Boston production is the longest running play in the world, while the productions in Chicago and Washington D.C. are the second- and third-longest running plays ever. How is this play still running after 19 years, you ask? Why not go see for yourself? But if you need more convincing before you’ll part with your $34, read on.

The show begins with an approximately ten minute pre-show. While watching the characters pantomime a haircut, phone calls, and various conversations, the audience has the chance to enjoy listening to various hits from the 50’s through the 80’s. Eventually (after many sight gags), the music dies down, and the show begins. The six characters are very stereotypical. There’s the flaming homosexual hairdresser, Tony Whitcomb (who is appropriately wearing a bright pink shirt), bosomy ditsy hairdresser Barbara DeMarco, the elderly and wealthy Mrs. Schubert, sleazy antique dealer Eddie Lawrence (who appears to be having a relationship with Barbara), and finally two seemingly ordinary customers.

In the next half hour, the comedic aspect of the show plays out. There is almost a joke per minute with modern references (“Hakuna Matata,” for example) mixing with timeless one-liners. Eventually, there is some Rachmaninov heard, and the audience learns about the renowned pianist, Isabel Czerny, who lives upstairs. After the characters’ many entrances and exits, Barbara comes in screaming that Isabel has been murdered. Then two customers from before come running in with guns, revealing their true identities as Boston police officers.

The real fun begins as the audience is informed that they are needed to help solve the murder at hand. After this point, anything goes as the actors improvise profusely. First, the suspects are asked to recreate the events leading up to the murder, and the audience is charged to correct any mistakes or fallacies in their recreation. Afterwards, intermission begins. However, there is no break for the actors since during intermission the audience gets the chance to talk to them about the murder and try to figure out who killed Isabel. Finally, after a round of questions and answers, the audience votes on the murderer and sits back to watch the rest of the show.

Sounds ordinary, huh? But I assure you, it’s not just that. The reason Shear Madness is still playing is because of its adaptability to its location and to today’s news. There are many different improvised jokes each night because thirty minutes before the show, the actors meet to brainstorm new material. Thus, the show is part script and part improvisation, which adds to the fun. Furthermore, the actors pick on the audience occasionally, leading to a good time shared by all.

Besides the acting, everything on the technical side works spectacularly as well. The set is wonderful. The audience, which sits on three sides of the stage, has no trouble seeing all of the play’s action. There is no need for special lighting and sound effects -- thus, there are none. Adding to the colorful set are the colorful costumes. Adorned in clothes fit for the character, each actor is really able to get into his or her part. The costumes make all six actors extremely believable.

To reiterate, if you have a free night and are looking for the perfect entertainment, go see Shear Madness. It is guaranteed to be an extremely fun night, whether you go with a date or a huge group. There is no substitute for live theatre. Even if you have seen it already, you can go again, vote for a different ending, and see what new jokes were added just for that night. I guarantee you will leave with the show with a huge grin on your face.