Courtroom Dramatics

Shear Madness

The interactive comedy Shear Madness has been around for 20 years, but the touring production's penchant for local references and updated jokes keeps it fresh. Enlisting local barristers to "defend" suspects against accusations of murder at the center of the whodunit also makes for a new performance each time out.

The show is set in a unisex styling salon, Shear Madness, where eccentric concert pianist Isabel Czerny has been offed. The shop's staff and patrons are all suspects in the murder: proprietor Tony Whitcomb, his gum-chewing manicurist Barbara DeMarco, socialite Eleanor Shubert, and antiques dealer Eddie Lawrence.

Cop Nick Rosetti and partner Mickey Thomas are on the scene to investigate, and after a briefing on the events surrounding the murder, the audience gets to choose which specific scenes are played out by the cast. The synopsis hints at some 30 to 40 clues that may lead to the murderer, but only about one-third of those are fully revealed on a given night, depending on which scenes the audience requests.

Before any sleuthing gets under way, though, a little local color is injected. At the beginning of the play, a character walks on stage, plops down in the barber's chair, and exclaims, "Boy, you think the weather is nice here in Fort Lauderdale, you should see it out in the country, where I live." Whitcomb then asks where the customer is from. "Tamarac," comes the reply.

"So it's not the country at all," explains director Bruce Jordan, "but the people in the area definitely think that Tamarac is funny." At least they did last time the show was in Fort Lauderdale, in December of 1996. Jordan wasn't with the show then but has incorporated some of what worked here before. "The thing that we try to have the audience believe is that it is taking place today in Fort Lauderdale," he continues.

The play is kept up-to-date with jokes rewritten to reflect current events: The hairdresser's cats used to be called Milli and Vanilli; now they're Bill and Hillary. This is also reflected during special performances, when local attorneys are brought on to make a comedic case for the defendants.

"Most of [the lawyers] try to do something that connects this case with a popular case either locally or nationally," Jordan says. In 1996 O.J. Simpson quips were hot. What will it be this time, Clinton impeachment-hearing ad libs about interns and cigars? -- John Ferri

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John Ferri