Mad as a hatter

By Erin Ryan-Walsh

Shear Madness holds a record in the
Guinness Book of World Records for the longest running non-musical
play in American Theatre. Director John Paul Fischbach describes
it perfectly as "part murder-mystery, part high-speed precision
farce, and part improvisation."

World famous pianist Isabelle Czerny is murdered in her apartment
above Kensington’s Shear Madness hair salon. Anyone of the patrons
or employees of the salon could have committed the crime, but
it is up to the audience to decide. The extremely funny cast,
including Loose Moose veterans Rebecca Northan and Graeme Davies
as well as Angels in America’s Mark Bellamy, interacts with the
audience in order to solve the mystery. The appeal of Shear Madness
is that every night, the show is different.

"The subtleties of the weather, the day of the week and
the energy of the audience make each performance slightly different,"
said Fischbach.

The show on Thurs., May 20 had a promising start with some fantastic
improv and clever references to Calgary pop culture, but as the
show progressed, the dialogue was reduced to a series of one-liners
and bad puns. Mark Bellamy carried the show with his beyond hilarious
portrayal of Tony Whitcomb, the gay hairdresser and owner of
Shear Madness. Everything Bellamy said and did was inevitably
followed by laughter from the audience, and from his co-stars.
The rest of the cast delivered adequate performances, but Bellamy’s
performance saved an often-trying script.

The improv and audience interaction mixed with the clientele
at the Pleiades made for something like a geriatric night at
Loose Moose. The improv went so far that at one point the entire
cast burst into unscripted laughter. In some instances this would
be considered poor acting, but in this case and in the spirit
of Loose Moose, it was accepted by the audience and worked well
with the show. While the improv was great, the audience interaction
was annoying. The audience is asked to help reconstruct the crime
scene by yelling out corrections, offering theories on whodunnit,
and finally voting to determine the guilty party. A really interesting
concept with a lot of potential, but the length of the audience
participation segment and the sheer (no pun intended) lack of
wit in the audience irked me. Other less cynical members of the
audience were giddy with the prospect of speaking out loud in
a theatre and solving a mystery, but as the house lights went
up they were no longer anonymous theatre goers, but participants
in the play.

Overall this is a good show if you are looking for an evening
of mindless and often humorous entertainment. Fischbach suggests
the best approach to Shear Madness is to "loosen up, have
a drink or two; it’s not ‘high brow art’ we are presenting for
you… it is just plain ol’ fun."

This is definitely good advice, and a good excuse to indulge
in one of the really tasty and very stiff martinis on sale in
the lobby, which you can bring into the theatre. Shear Madness
runs until June 6, at the Pleiades Theatre in the Calgary Science
Centre. For more info call 265-5682.

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