SHEAR MADNESSby Paul Pörtner
Direction by Marty Van Kleeck
Scenic Design by Jac Alder
Costume Design by Marty Van Kleeck
Lighting Design by Kenneth Farnsworth
Sound Design by Marco E. Salinas
Stage Management by Stew Awalt
CAST (in alphabetical order)
Bradley Campbell as Nick O’Brien
Matthew Clark as Mikey Thomas
B.J. Cleveland as Tony Whitcomb
Sherry Hopkins as Barbara Demarco
David Meglino as Eddie Lawrence
Gene Raye Price as Mrs. Schubert
Reviewed Performance: 5/19/2014
Reviewed by Richard Blake, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan acquired rights for a murder mystery originally titled Scherenschnitt, written by German playwright Paul Pörtner, and made it into what is now the play Shear Madness. The play is set in a unisex hair salon in whatever city in which it plays., Isabel Czerny, the landlady who lives above the shop, is murdered and the audience gets involved in the action by questioning the actors in an attempt to solve the crime. The characters include two detectives, a flamboyant hairdresser, his flirty yet ditzy assistant, along with a prim and proper uptight older lady and a man who is a "used antiques dealer." Much of the dialogue is improvised by the actors, and the humor tends to revolve around topical references to current events as well as local references. The ending of the play is different every night as audience members hear clues, question the characters and then vote on who they think is guilty.
Voted Best Comedy of the Year seven times by the Boston Globe and recipient of the title Best Play of the Year by both the Chicago Sun-Times and the Philadelphia Enquirer, Shear Madness has also received the Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America and has been inducted into the Comedy Hall of Fame, the first play ever to receive that accolade. Shear Madness is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest running play in the history of the USA. The flagship Boston company has given birth to forty two productions in the US and Shear Madness has been translated into ten foreign languages, playing worldwide to a host of cities including Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Paris, Rejkavik, Rome, Tel Aviv, Melbourne, Johannesburg and Seoul.
If you’ve never been to the unique Theatre Too, located below Theatre 3, it’s a very intimate performance space. You are less than three feet from the performers and every nuance of any production in the space is up close and very personal. Presenting Shear Madness in this space is a perfect choice not only for the intimacy of the story but also by becoming even more in your face during the actor/audience participation that takes place through almost all of the performance.
Director Marty Van Kleeck immediately immerses you in the “madness” of the play’s environment from the moment you enter the theatre. Actors are in the hair salon, cutting hair, improvising action and ignoring all the patrons entering. You actually feel like you’ve walked in on people’s lives and have a strange voyeuristic feeling waiting for the play to start. It works perfectly! I was immediately engaged in the action, and when the play actually begins with dialogue being spoken as the lights go down, it was a seamless transition into the world of these characters. About halfway through the first act, the house lights come up and now the audience is part of the play, even during intermission, almost until the very end. It’s a great script only upstaged by the brilliant direction of Ms. Van Kleeck. This play requires the audience to choose the killer, meaning every night a different character is chosen, thus driving the story to a different conclusion. Directing this type of entertainment is very difficult to do, as I learned in directing Clue: The Musical last year. You have to give up control, rely on an extraordinary cast and direct the best character work possible. You never know what an audience will (or will not) do in each performance, and that is a very unsettling feeling for a director. In every facet of this production, from casting to staging and visual presentation, Ms. Van Kleeck hits it out of the park with this production.
Jac Alder’s scenic design is stunningly eye catching, very well dressed AND functional. Yes folks, there’s running water on stage in the hair washing station and it gets used throughout the show, including a full soap and water washing of a characters hair. From the receptionist’s desk to the styling stations, hair dryers and waiting area, everything functions on this set and it adds a whole new dimension to the show. The colors are bright and “faaaaaaaabulous”, as the character Tony puts it, and there’s not a spot an actor can’t work in, around or ON, in some cases, and that everyone in the theatre can’t see. For such a small space, this is one big set and it’s definitely a winner.
The lighting design by Kenneth Farnsworth and sound design by Marco E. Salinas are not complex, but simple they are not. The lighting stays general throughout the play as it takes place on one afternoon, in one place, with no changes. The overall scheme is bright, cheery and very functional in lighting the stage and performers. The sound design has some unique qualities, with ringing phones, phantom piano playing and radio broadcasts, all of which are perfect for the show. These two designers prove perfection can be achieved with simplicity, not necessarily ease, in technical design.
As for the cast, this has to be one of the best assembled group of artists I’ve seen perform in a long time. They are professional, work together as one to tell the story, are all excellent actors and simply remarkable at improvisational theatre!! There is not one moment any member of this amazing ensemble falters and you are never left feeling unsatisfied with any performance. Even during a prop mishap (which will probably always be known now as “the gun incident” from that night forward) this cast held it together, laughed along with the audience and moved the show along. Huge congratulations to this exciting cast of Shear Madness, you should all be very, very proud!
B.J. Cleveland, as Tony Whitcomb, is a force to be reckoned with in this play. Mr. Cleveland is a very well-known, highly-seasoned DFW actor, and in this role he shows true skill and abilities to the highest degree. His one-liners, scripted or improvised, are perfect and delivered with the ease that only a true professional has. He reads the audience and knows just how far he can go, yet never once strays from the well-designed structure of the script. Trust me; you will be laughing a LOT in this show and most of the time Mr. Cleveland will be laughing with you...actually probably at you! Barbara Demarco, played by Sherry Hopkins, has great stage presence, a commanding glance and a truly remarkable take on her role as the less-than-smart hairdresser in the salon. Watching her trade barbs with Mr. Cleveland, the audience or other cast members is like watching magic in the making. Although this is her premiere at Theatre 3, she’s performed at most of the professional theaters in the area and is definitely making her mark. I have a feeling this won’t be the last time we see this wonderful actress grace the stage at the quadrangle, and I for one look forward to seeing her again.
Bradley Campbell, as Nick O’Brien, is another highly-seasoned and wonderfully talented professional gracing the stage in this production. This show marks his eighth appearance at the theatre, and there’s a reason why - this man can act! He goes from just playing a role to becoming a sort of “host” for the evening, guiding the audience through the “madness” occurring onstage. His talent is top notch and never once do you feel he is acting. Mr. Campbell is so at ease onstage, you are immediately drawn to him and follow his every command and hilarious moment through the play.
Matthew Clark, as Mikey Thomas, and playing straight man to all the jokes and comedy in the show, is a truly talented spectacle on stage. As another actor making their debut at Theatre 3, Mr. Clark pulls out all the stops in his role, always entertaining you with great facial expressions and perfect delivery of dead-pan one liners. I literally laughed so hard I was crying during the “gun incident” I mentioned earlier as it was he who had the prop mishap. Mr. Clark burst back on to the stage for his entrance, straight faced and in character, holding PIECES of the gun in both hands yelling “Don’t move!” All the while, the audience roared, his fellow cast broke character a bit, and he stood there and didn’t crack a smile! This young man is going to be a force to contend with in our arts community and I look forward to many more years of seeing him shine on the stage.
Mrs. Schubert, played by Gene Raye Price, is nothing less than true perfection in this play. A seasoned actress and true “Lady of the Arts” here in North Texas, Ms. Price perfectly portrays a high society Dallas wife of, shall we say... maturity. She exudes grace on stage, holds her own with hilarious one liners (sometimes from a closet no less) and throws down as good as anyone else with her improvisational precision. She wasn’t the killer in the performance I viewed, but even if she had been, I still feel like I would have loved her and defended her till the end!
David Meglino, as Eddie Lawrence, rounds out this amazing ensemble of performers. A well-trained and professional actor here in the metroplex and nationwide, Mr. Meglino takes the stage with drive and precision in his role. His wonderful reactions, facial expressions and improvisation make you take notice and you always wonder what he’s “up to”. His skills as an actor are perfectly honed, and every moment when he’s the focus of the scene he draws you in with great style and panache.
Whether or not you’re a fan of who-dunn-its or murder mysteries, Shear Madness feels like neither and will have you rooting for a killer, laughing until you cry, and not wanting the evening to end. Theatre 3 has a huge hit on its hands and it wouldn’t surprise me if the “Salon” makes an extended home of the Theatre Too space for much longer than the current run. I certainly hope so!
Theatre Too at Theatre 3
800 Routh Street
Dallas, TX 75201
Runs through JULY 20th
Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday - Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 2:30 pm
Tickets are $40.00, with seniors and students receiving a $3.00 discount. Goldstar patrons receive even greater discounts on single tickets.
For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit Theatre 3’s website at www.theatre3dallas.com or call their box office at 214-871-3300.