The Audience Questions Suspects in “Shear Madness” at Ivoryton

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shear Madness 1 -- Jonathan Steele
Patrick Noonan and Jordan Ahnquist. Photo by Jonathan Steele

By Karen Isaacs

It’s rare for a show to run decades – Phantom of the Opera and Chicago has done it on Broadway, The Fantasticks did it off-Broadway, The Mousetrap (by Agatha Christie) has it done it in London and Shear Madness has done it in both Boston and Washington, DC.

Now, Ivoryton Playhouse has brought this audience interactive mystery/comedy to Connecticut through Sunday, Oct. 6.

It is delightfully exaggerated fun.

The premise is simple – a hair salon operates in a building owned by a former concert pianist who lives upstairs. On this day, she is murdered. The question is “who did it?”

But while the premise is simple, the execution takes energy and talent. Three of the cast members have performed the show in other venues, but the entire cast is totally at ease with the mayhem that ensues.

One of the “gimmicks” of Shear Madness is that certain references in the show are changed to reflect the theater location. So here, the hair salon is in Ivoryton and there multiple references to local things including the Clinton outlet malls, Waterford, and more. Of course, the audience appreciated these references.

The second “gimmick” is that the audience is asked to help the detectives investigating the murder.

We have four suspects, each of whom was in the salon during the period of the murder. Yet each of them was out of sight of the others for some of the time. Tony is the owner of the salon though his skills do not seem very professional; he’s more interested in gossip. Barbara is another stylist whose physical attributes attract attention. Eddie Lawrence is a customer (or is he?) and Mrs. Shubert is a grand dame with society manners. Plus we have the two detectives. Actually initially we think they are customers: Mikey who is getting a shampoo and trim and later Nick who comes in for a shave. Neither service is provided very well.

The show depends heavily on physical humor – watching Tony absentmindedly creating a huge tower of shaving cream while he is talking – is funny. So is Nick’s reaction to a steaming hot towel.

Caricatures are also a major part of the show. Tony is gay and flamboyantly so. As played by Jordan Ahnquist, he exhibits just about every stereotypical gesture, expression and vocal tone. The same is true of Lisa McMillan as Mrs. Shubert the society matron. She has the lockjaw vocal mannerism that one who expect.

These go beyond stereotypes to comic representations. As Barbara, Siobhan Fitzgerald is voluptuous and sexy. Bill Mootos as Eddie is less of a caricature because his character is less definite; you wonder if he is a criminal, a business man, a blackmailer, or something else entirely.

As the two detectives, Patrick Noonan is hilarious as Nick O’Brien the detective in charge. He is funny as the customer (in the disguise of a hardhat) and also when he is in control of the madness during the investigation. He is assisted by Lee Harvey as Mikey, the junior detective.

The special fun of this show is the interaction and involvement with the audience. After the murder has been committed and the detectives have completed some preliminary questioning, Nick turns to the audience and asks them to point out things that were incorrect in the various statements by the others.

It is amazing how observant the audience members were at recalling small details. I almost suspected that some of the comments were planted, but I don’t think they were. Audience members contradicted statements or called attention to things the detectives had missed.

During an intermission (almost two thirds of the way through the two hour show), both Mikey and Nick are collecting questions and information from the audience.

The second act is mainly wrapping up the investigations. But even then the audience is involved. I can’t tell you who the murderer is even if I wanted to. Each night the audience votes and whomever gets the most votes is the murderer for that performance.

This production was directed Bob Lohrmann who is the resident director of the Washington, D.C. production as well as directing multiple productions throughout the US and Canada.

Daniel Nischan has created a salon that looks very realistic and even has running water. Elizabeth A.  Saylor’s costumes and wigs give just the right touch to the show.

It is silly, but it is so well structured that you see why it has run for decades.

Shear Madness is part farce, part mystery and part audience participation. For tickets visit Ivoryton Playhouse or call 860-787-7318.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com.

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