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Shear Madness

a Atlanta Premiere
CATEGORY : COMEDY
by Paul Portner

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 1240

SHOWING : April 15, 2005 - June 30, 2005

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

America's Longest-Running comedy pits a gaggle of goofy murder suspects against you, the audience, as you try to figure out "who dunnit?"


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REVIEWS

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Shear Lameness
by Dedalus
Monday, May 9, 2005
2.0
Okay, granted, “Shear Madness” by Paul Portner can be funny, and puts some good actors through a gauntlet of audience-interactive improvisations. It is also in the “Guinness Book of World Records” as the longest-running non-musical in America (over 25 years in Boston). This last is understandable as it changes with local and contemporary references, so you can see it many times and literally see a different play every time.

Unfortunately, it is also loaded with some of the thinnest characters, some of the lamest jokes and dialogue I’ve heard in years, and an ending that is shear [sic] agony to experience (I’m convinced the murder victim really committed suicide after reading the script).

Oddly enough, I feel a bit churlish criticizing this play. As an usher, I watched from a position in the Hertz Stage from which I could watch audience faces as well as the action of the play. It was obvious the audience laughed more, and were more entertained by this play than was I. Strangely enough, though, they seemed to find the audience response/interaction/ad-libbing more enjoyable than the scripted lines and schtick. It was as if we all went to a four-star restaurant and our favorite course was the one we cooked ourselves.

I can’t help but compare this script with the musical “Drood,” also an audience-participation mystery in which the murderer is voted on by the audience. In the case of “Drood,” however, the cast members actively solicit votes (after all, if they “win,” they get to sing a big confession number). They are also interesting, textured, and layered through the filter of the “Music Hall Actors” playing them. In that case, also, the writers have a few more surprises in store for the audience after the confession happens.

In “Shear Madness,” however, we are given only three choices, none of whom is deeper than a caricature. And after the “confession,” which was quite lame and unfunny in the case of the character who “won the vote,” the play simply ends, with the detective advising us to come back another night and see a different ending. Thanks, but, No Thanks. Would it have been so difficult to throw a few surprises in at the end? To have a few more suspects? A few less obvious clues? And, as long as I’m being churlish, since the dialogue is constantly updated to reflect local and current events, would it have been so difficult to update some of the technology (a cell phone for a “significant” scene, a CD or MP-3 player instead of a cassette player for a crucial clue, for example)?

No matter what I say, this play has been enjoyed by a lot of people for a long time, and it will be enjoyed by a lot of people here in Atlanta. Which, of course, proves the old adage that no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.

Of course, let’s not forget, I am being churlish …

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)
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