Murder mystery makes merriment in Massachusetts

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By Ellen Garnett
Staff Writer

For anyone who needs an immersive, hilarious diversion from studying for midterms, “Shear Madness” is the perfect show for de-stressing.

Now in its 30 year anniversary, “Shear Madness” by playwright Paul Pörtner is a comedic improv murder mystery drama — picture the board game Clue, but with more dynamic characters and taking place in a present-day Boston unisex hair salon. The show becomes an investigation into the murder of Isabel Czerny, the landlord of the building which the hair salon occupies.

Photo of Nick getting a shave from Tony

“Shear Madness” characters Nick (in the chair) and Tony offer comical renditions of a Boston man and flamboyant hair dresser, respectively. (Photo from Boston.Broadway.com)

What makes this show so special is its inclusion of the audience in the murder mystery. After the murder has taken place, the boundaries between fiction and reality are torn down when the audience becomes part of the investigation by being able to interrogate the characters. In fact, when the cops show up and announce that the murder investigation needed fresh eyes, the house lights turned on and the characters could suddenly see the audience.

This breaking down of the boundaries initiated a new level of comedy due to the improvisation on the part of the characters in response to audience interrogation.

Main characters include Tony (Neil Casey) as the hairdresser, Barbara (Robin Long) as the hairdresser’s assistant, Eddie (Joseph Marella) as the antique-seller, and Nick (Joe Ruscio) as the main cop. The most notable character, however, was Tony. His explosive and exaggerated personality as a gay hairdresser with his Gilbert Gottfried-like voice made the audience laugh every time he opened his mouth.

Tony’s interactions with the audience were particularly fun, as he would act as if certain male audience members were past lovers. The charm of “Shear Madness” lies in its encouragement of audience involvement, of audience members improvising along with the actors.

The show’s improvisation led to countless humorous mic-drop phrases such as “I want the judge that Tom Brady had,” and in describing Tony, “He’s never been the same since Zayn left One Direction.” The improvised interaction between characters was fun to watch, especially when Tony embraced Nick with an unexpected kiss, which caused all of the actors to break character out of laughter.

“Shear Madness” is a fabulous play that anyone looking for good, rib-cracking laughter should go see. The show is playing at the Charles Playhouse here in Boston and while the tickets are a tad pricey at $56, rush or day of tickets are sometimes available depending on the day.