Before the lights fall and the audience settles, on stage, Mike (Adi Stein) endures a slapstick shampooing and hair cut by madcap stylist Tony (Michael Litchfield), the flamboyantly gay owner and operator of the titular establishment in DC’s enduring (and endearing) comedy caper.
At age 27, you may expect some grandfatherly theatrical triumph, but don’t be fooled. Shear Madness is a farce best served with cola, not Cabernet, for there’s nothing sophisticated about the long-running show, which puts everything from legalized pot to Taylor Swift in its crosshairs. And then fires a deluge of (mostly) distasteful jokes one can’t help but laugh at.
A potential way to kill someone? “Take them for a car ride with Bruce Jenner,” Tony offers. Wince. Snicker. Cough. Cough. Snicker.
Shear Madness is as much about befuddled would-be-killers and cops with poor judgment as it is about being a bawdy take-down of all things (decent and DC) while using poor judgment.
The plot is simple: Tony’s buxom assistant Barbara (Nora Palk) finds his landlady—a noisy, nosy biddy—in a pool of blood minutes after they and two patrons, smarmy antique dealer Eddie Lawrence (Nick DePinto) and gossipy socialite Mrs. Shubert (Maureen Kerrigan), have a cathartic bitch session about her vexing idiosyncrasies. The question of “whodunit” then breaks the fourth wall, viewers—refereed by DC’s clumsy fuzz Mike (Stein) and Nick (Joe Mallon)— interrogate the characters to surmise how (stabbing), what (scissors), where (near a piano), why (money?), when (a 30 minute window) and who.
It’s not much of a secret that the audience names the killer by vote and the cast plays it that way. It’s nice to always be right in this pre-Clue era, Clue-esque choose-your-ending play (it came out of Germany in 1963) with four potential outcomes. Last week, Barbara (my vote) got cuffed and Nora Palk did fine job taking the spotlight to explain how, in a fit of rage, she snipped the life from the old nag.
First seen in Boston in 1980, and opening here at the Kennedy Center in 1987, the show reinvents itself every performance— pulling from the news of the day, and on-goings of the DMV, to improvise timely witticisms and gags. The 2016 Presidential elections have already made an appearance, and Tony had a thing or two to say about Neil Patrick Harris in his tighty-whities at the 87th Oscars last Sunday. In 1987, Paul Hogan (aka Crocodile Dundee) co-hosted. Maybe past-Tony had at least one (deserved) crack about that.
Madness is also the place for tourists to plumb DC denizens’ take on their own town – what inspires both pride (Strasbourg) and disdain (most politicians) – while also being subjected to disparaging commentary on the mundane. Like Rockville. Which fell flat. Who cares about our suburbs? Certainly not 50 kids visiting the nation’s Capital via a leadership program.
2700 F Street NW
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets or call 800.444.1324
This cast is a chemical confectionary à la the best SNL crews, playing at breakneck speed to sugar each performance with the ridiculous. Michael Litchfield (Tony) and Joe Mallon (Nick, the cop) bounce off each other, barely able to keep a straight face and pausing long and hard between lines, as if they are trying to crack the other up. In a cultured play, this would be a problem. Here, they make the show memorable, even if the fodder they toss back and forth always isn’t.
Despite an updated set with vibrant pinks and turquoise (a current décor color of choice), no one uses a cell, but why muddy an already tawdry thing with the ubiquitous technology that lessens mystery? Instead, they stick with that old-time marvel: the land line.
In 2015, Madness feels more like a tourist attraction (the aforementioned 50 kids) than it does a stalwart DC tradition beloved by Washingtonians (in 8 years, I’ve never heard anyone talk about it as if its a thing). That’s not necessarily bad, but it wouldn’t hurt for some of the super-serious locals to visit this ode to vaudeville, take a load off, and embrace what makes it kinda great–a little lunacy and lot of crassness, neither of which will tarnish an enlightened soul.
Shear Madness, still crazy-stupid fun, will make you laugh, DC. Promise.
Shear Madness Directed and Designed by Bruce Jordan . Featuring Nora Palk, Maureen Kerrigan, Michael Litchfield, Adi Stein, Joe Mallon, and Nick DePinto . Lighting by Dan Covey . Original Set Design by Kim Peter Kovac . Costumes and Set Adapted by Scott L. Hammar, Associate Director Bob Lohrmann, Sound by John Vengrouskie . Production Stage Manager Scott L. Hammar . Company Manager Roberto Samayoa . Produced by The Kennedy Center . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.