By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
photo by Tim Fuller
The cast (from left) is Mike Thomas (Jesse Boone), Nick Rossetti (Jack Neubeck), Barbara DeMarco (Lori Hunt), Tony Whitcomb (Robert Encila), Mrs. Shubert (Susan Kovitz) and Eddie Lawrence (Eric Anson).
"Shear Madness,” enjoying nightly success at the Invisible Theatre, isn't so much amusing theater as it is an exuberant state of mind.
This comedy of snippy quips and local references zips around all the gleaming corners of a bright yellow hair salon with a spirited elan that defies anyone to maintain a sour face.
So just give it up. The play was conceived more than 40 years ago in Germany and made its stateside debut in English back in 1978, a time when you could get away with just about anything onstage.
New York actors Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan adapted the audience-interactive production to be a permanently mounted piece of entertainment where the ending was different every night depending on specific audience reactions to a few set scenes.
A Washington DC company has been running “Shear Madness” for decades and a Boston company has been running it for years. Now other theaters in cities all over the world want in on the action.
Which is to say, “Shear Madness” has been polished into to a can't-miss piece of monkey business that Invisible Theatre has mounted with all the energetic performances you would expect from a show directed by Susan Claassen.
The set-up is simple. On an ordinary day like any other ordinary day in the hyper-kinetic hair styling business of a metropolitan city in the 1960s, an elderly lady is stabbed to death with a pair of beauty shop shears (we never get to see this part) in an upstairs apartment above the aptly named hair salon Shear Madness.
What we do see is the crazy Shear Madness carrying-on of the salon's owner and hairdresser Tony Whitcomb (Robert Encila), his manicurist Barbara DeMarco (Lori Hunt), the suspicious customer Eddie Lawrence (Eric Anson) and the sophisticated longtime client Mrs. Schubert (Susan Kovitz).
Then a couple of cops pop up with their own eccentric mannerisms, Nick Rossetti (Jack Neubeck) and Mike Thomas (Jesse Boone). Pretty soon everybody is vigorously denying everything as Rossetti -- a combination detective and master of ceremonies – insists everything will be properly sorted out.
This is way more explanation than “Shear Madness” needs because the real fun is in the outrageous actions of all the characters.
Encila has the time of his life stealing every scene that comes his way. Hunt struts and saunters while chewing gum at the same time, a perfect picture of the manicure culture of those times. Kovitz takes snootiness to an arrogant high, getting laughs at every level.
Neubeck is kind of the quarterback of this team. We watch nearly all of the first act as if this is a “regular” play, the Neubeck steps to the front of the stage, breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience.
The audience will watch while all the characters re-enact events leading up to the discovery of the murder. The audience will observe carefully for any discrepancies and point them out to the officers.
No matter what is pointed out, the character will have an answer ready. This leads to much hilarious improvising of lines. Such interrogation continues in the second act as suspense builds until finally, Neubeck asks the audience to decide which character is the guilty party.
“Shear Madness” continues through April 26, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, at Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave. All tickets $30. For details and reservations, 520-882-9721, or visit invisibletheatre.com