Imagine an audience of 300 people mentally recording your every move … and determining whether or not you’re a cold-blooded killer.
No graduation from the police academy is necessary to take part in Totem Pole Playhouse’s “Shear Madness,” the zany whodunnit that will leave any audience member in stitches (from laughter, of course!).
Perfectly executed by the six-member cast, “Shear Madness” takes place in the unisex hairstyling salon in Chambersburg, owned by the flamboyant Tony Whitcomb (portrayed by Shane Partlow of the award-winning “Green Book”). The fast-paced murder mystery revolves around four suspects accused of stabbing the annoying landlady, Isabel Czerny, a reclusive concert pianist who lives above the salon, with a pair of salon shears.
As the audience is introduced to Tony, Tony’s sweet and sassy hairdresser, Barbara DeMarco (portrayed by Maryanne Piccolo), the fast-talking antiques dealer Eddie Lawrence (portrayed by Christian Cardozo), the snooty socialite Mrs. Elenor Shubert (portrayed by Lisa McMillan), and Detective Nick Rossetti (portrayed by Craig Benton) and his dim-wittedly charming partner, Mikey Thomas (portrayed by Zack Powell), the scenes leading up to the discovery of Isabel’s body are of utmost importance to the outcome of the production.
Each suspect has a likely motive for wanting Isabel dead, and it’s up to you to decide who is guilty.
Tony shows how much Isabel’s loud piano playing outrages him by banging on the pipes and calling her a choice word. Eddie seems rather shady as he later runs into the shop with a cut finger that he washes in the sink. Barbara leaves the shop with the trash, but not before placing a pair of shears in the can. Though Mrs. Shubert is at the salon when Barbara discover’s Isabel’s body, her motive to want her dead is unclear.
After a hysterical Barbara faints from the sight of the blood, Rossetti and Mikey burst into the salon, and commence questioning the suspects. Little do the suspects know, their white lies will be exposed by the audience members that watched everything unfold. The production also reveals some suspects’ deeper connections to the victim that they have kept to themselves.
So, who killed Isabel? The ending is different at each show, and each one is as hilarious as the next.
After intermission, you’ll get the chance to question each of the suspects individually to determine who the guilty party is.
Don’t miss “Shear Madness,” at Totem Pole Playhouse. Between the clever delivery of one-liners, to the many local references (Rutter’s hot dogs, Biglerville and the Chambersburg Community Theatre, among others), it’s a show that will keep you guessing (and laughing) at every turn.
“Shear Madness” runs through Sunday, June 16, at the summer theater in Caledonia.
Totem Pole is one of the first theatres in the country to be granted a limited performance rights license to present the show, which has been running continuously at the Charles Playhouse in Boston since 1980 and at the Kennedy Center in D.C. for more than 30 years. The play has the distinction of being one of the longest-running stage comedies in the world.
The production is directed by Totem Pole’s Producing Artistic Director Rowan Joseph. The set is designed by D.C. scenic designer Jonathan Dahm Robertson with lighting design by
Jeremy Mayo. Gettysburg College’s Juls Buehrer is the costume designer for the production.
Margie Smith of New Oxford attended her first show at Totem Pole last Saturday, with a group from her church, New Oxford First Lutheran.
“It was wonderful! The humor; the whole bit,” she said of “Shear Madness.”
Two audience members who hail from Maryland said they come to Totem Pole every summer, and were excited for the murder mystery.
“We loved it! We thought it was hilarious,” one Hagerstown woman said. “I liked the way they put it local flavor with Biglerville, Five Forks Women’s Group, and other things.”
“I just loved the improv of the show,” one Linthicum, Maryland, woman added.
After the show, Piccolo said she based her character off of her “Auntie Peggy,” a Florida hairdresser.
Partlow quipped that if he can make it through the shaving cream scene in the beginning, then it’s smooth sailing from there. One night, he said the cream, that was supposed to foam, was a runny mess.
Cardozo said he enjoys playing Eddie because “he’s a wise guy character I like to portray. He’s always got something cooking.”
Benton, who has been involved with five different productions of the show now, said everyone trusts each other in this cast.
“You have to be on your toes and fully focused,” he added.
Piccolo said she mostly does musical theater, and “Shear Madness” is a different animal altogether.
“It does change every night,” she noted. “I have pages of questions that the audience can ask me, and responses to each one.”
She said Barbara and Eddie have been tied with audience votes on whodunnit so far with Totem Pole’s production.
“The way it’s constructed, anyone could be guilty,” Partlow explained. “The script is about 200 pages. This is the Guinness Book of World Records’ longest-running non-musical show.”
“It’s a mystery that gets you hooked, and it’s funny as hell,” Benton explained.
The cast rehearsed for about 2 ½ weeks before opening at the end of May. Cardozo and Piccolo said some of it is rehearsed, and the script’s structure points the actors in the right direction of different scenarios.
“You have to constantly change gears,” Benton said.
“You start to live with your character, so you naturally know what your character will do so you can land that punchline,” Cardozo added.
“You have to be a really active listener from the top,” Piccolo said of the challenges in executing the performances. “You have to be one step ahead because everything’s a domino effect.”
Benton said he really enjoys surprising the audience at a moment that’s fairly serious, but then the jokes come out. “It’s fun to watch even if you don’t participate,” he added.
Cardozo said he enjoys hearing the audience’s laughs.
“It gives you energy and keeps you engaged,” he said.
Partlow, Benton and Piccolo agreed that doing the show is definitely better with an audience because in rehearsal, you can forget that something is funny without the reaction.
Get your tickets to “Shear Madness” by calling the Box Office between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Sunday at: (717) 352-2164. Tickets for upcoming shows, including the next in the summer subscription series, “Smoke on the Mountain” (June 21-July7) can also be purchased at the Box Office, or online at: www.totempoleplayhouse.org.