Amy Jacques-Purdy

Shear Madness: Maddeningly Disappointing

Shear Madness is the longest running non-musical play in the world. It is an improv-based interactive play that takes place on one set, which is a barbershop named Shear Madness. In this barbershop, a murder of the landlord takes place, and there are two undercover cops who are in the store at the time. As the cops attempt to uncover the mystery of who killed the landlord, the officers call upon the audience to help recall the events of the crime scene, and the audience chooses who they believed committed the crime. Based on whoever the crowd chooses, the actors will improvise the scene that will incriminate that person. 

The story is pretty engaging, but the whole script and improv work done by the actors is pretty weak. There are many jokes about current events and political humor, and it is very funny for most of the play, but it gets old towards the end. The story is enjoyable, but it falls flat and feels a little too hollow, which may be due to the second half of the play, during which the level of enjoyment is dependent on the crowd reaction. 

The first act of the play is enjoyable enough; it has a sense of mystery as normal events unfold in the salon, and throughout, the audience is waiting to see when the story will take a turn for the worst, and it happens only at the very end of the first act. The second act turns into a confusing mess, as the characters cease to be integral to the story. In this act, the audience interacts with the crime scene to figure out who did it, and all sense of cohesion is lost. All of the characters don’t have any motivation or any point in the plot, because that is now the audience’s job.

Although this plot seems like it would give a lot of rewatch value, it is actually very minimal because of how the plot is laid out. Since the mystery isn’t embedded into the plot and the audience chooses the ending, all of the evidence for each of the characters committing the crime is pretty much equal up until the very end. The whole plot ends up feeling very contrived, since in reality it is contrived. It’s designed to end in four different ways, which explains why the ending seemed unsatisfactory.

The biggest issues with this play are derived from the fact that the whole show is based on an audience reaction. The cheap slapstick humor is meant to get cheap laughs, the whole second act with the audience examining the crime scene is a mess, and the end is quite unsatisfying. Shear Madness is a lowbrow comedy in which its unique concept of audience interaction that brings people into the theatres is also the thing that ruins the whole story.

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