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BWW Review: Good Theater Romps in SHEAR MADNESS

Another chapter in the thirty-seven year history of Paul Portner's interactive comedy, Shear Madness, has opened on the stage of Portland's Good Theater, and the side-splittingly funny, quick-paced murder mystery which Brian P. Allen and his excellent cast serve up is not to be missed!

Among the secrets of Shear Madness' longevity is the role which the audience gets to play in each evening's performance. Using six zany characters, the clever script sets the scene for a murder in the apartment above a hair salon and then asks the audience to join with the cast to solve the crime. Part Clue, part reality theatre; after the first act, the script is wide open for improvisation, depending on the audience's input, and the outcome, at least on the evening I saw it, is both hilariously funny and full of surprises, thereby insuring that every evening will be a fresh performance. The play is also tailored to its locale, so that over the years, the jokes have been updated and the topical references are, in this case, - to the delight of the crowd - Portland and Maine specific.

As always, Brian P. Allen directs with a sure hand and plenty of brio. He keeps the comedy moving at a break-neck pace which builds laugh upon laugh, handling the various forms of humor from situation irony to sight gags to malapropisms with equal skill. Allen is largely responsible for the witty "localisms" in this version, and he leads his energetic cast through the spirited two-hour evening, with hardly a break with deft skill.

Since the play requires a working hair salon on stage with electricity and water, the Good has rented the Las Vegas set and used Jeanne Handy Designs as consultants; Steve Underwood has adapted it to the stage of the St. Lawrence Center, encasing the vintage vinyl chairs in a bright retro color scheme of yellow, red, and orange. Iain Odlin complements the décor with a bright, warm lighting design, and Steve Underwood's sound track with hits of the 70s and 80s adds a lively context.

The cast is uniformly delightful! Veteran of seven productions, Timothy C. Goodwin as Detective Nick O'Brien anchors the production, serving as inquiring inspector, cast wrangler, and audience master of ceremonies. It is he who gets to set the second act pace and maneuver the clues to the final discovery, and it is he who must factor in the rapid-fire changes in the play each night - something which his skill at improvisation clearly enhances. As his sidekick, Mikey Thomas, Conor Riordan Martin is appropriately dim and goofy in an officious, self-serious way.

In the central roles of the two hair salon employees, Tony and Barbara, Michael Wood and Kathleen Kimball, each limn loveable, quirky characters. Wood, with his facility to change masks rapidly, creates an endearing portrait of the gay Tony, wickedly funny without ever going completely over the top. Kimball makes the tough talking, voluptuous Barbara an amusing counterpoint, and both have a kinetic energy on stage that is hard to resist. Rounding out the ensemble is Laura Houck as the imperious wealthy customer, Mrs. Shubert and Paul Drinan as a shifty antiques dealer, Eddie Lawrence.

For all its silliness and froth, Shear Madness is a theatrical experience that does not grow old, precisely because, like so many farces in theatre history, it requires impeccable timing and perfect technique, in this case married to improvisational flair. The Good Theater gives its audience all that and more. In choosing to run the show for an unprecedented eight weeks in Portland, Allen takes a risk, but he demonstrates not only that his company is well-equipped, but that it is precisely the adventurousness of the Good Theater which makes it such an asset to the community.

Shear Madness runs from January 27-March 20, 2016, at 76 Congress St., Portland, ME 207-885-5883

Photos Courtesy of the Good Theater

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From This Author Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold