Review by Natalie Pendergast
First adapted in 1978 by New York duo Abrams and Jordan, the perpetually original script of Shear Madness is meant to reference local and recent trends, pertaining to the politics, gossip, and culture of the town in which it is staged. In the wrong hands, the task of editing such a script to fit local settings could be disastrous. Director Bob Lohrmann, however, has woven PEI into Shear Madness so seamlessly that one would never know of its New York roots.
Set in a pink and yellow schemed, patent leather floral beauty salon, and with characters who are just as cartoon-ish, the stage feels like either Willy Wonka or Andy Warhol has been decorating. Garnished with ’60s to ’80s upbeat pop music, the only indication that we are viewing a contemporary performance is the bright yellow croc’s on Tony Whitcomb’s (Wade Lynch) nimble feet. Barbara MacEachern’s (Andrea Risk) Island name juxtaposes her untraditional electric blue low-lights and cheap nail polish, while Jay T. Schramek and Kevin Sepaul shine as the bookish and macho cops. The youthful setting precedes very clever jokes which are so quick and intimate at times that audience members have to be alert to catch everything. But even if some references or double entendres are missed, there is enough kinesthetic, Chaplin-esque humour to satisfy everyone. The actors poke fun at local celebrities Robert Ghiz and Brad Richards, as well the town of Cornwall and the Charlottetown police.
The play is all fun and laughs until somebody gets murdered; sheared to death. The slaying happens off-set to a character never seen by the audience, but whose piano-playing is heard and complained about by the cast. When the police stake out the salon and narrow the suspects down to the customers and employees of Shear Madness, the play suddenly becomes a whodunit mystery which requires the audience’s memory of Acts I and II. Clues and evidence become subjective and lead to numerous surprises. The audience becomes characters as well: witnesses in the case of who killed Isabel Czerny.
But never does the mystery component of Shear Madness take centre stage. This play is first and forever a comedy. Even during the most climactic parts of the police questioning, almost every line is a punch line: “She took viagra because she thought it helped old pianists perform better,” says Whitcomb at one point.
The cast improvises frequently throughout the play, as was intended by original visionaries Abrams and Jordon, so not only is each season of Shear Madness unique, but each performance and outcome is different. In fact, if I were to reveal the identity of the murderer, it would not matter because the culprit will be different each night.
Shear Madness exposes true Island culture in a way that is so revealing and honest that I almost blushed at the familiarity of the characters and conversations; seeing oneself in such exaggerated and ridiculous people is humbling and touching.