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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: January 3, 2018

‘Shear Madness’ returns to Portland for a three-month run

Written by: Bob Keyes

“Shear Madness,” an audience-participation whodunit set in a campy hair salon, and Good Theater’s biggest hit ever, returns for a two-month run on Wednesday.
Photo courtesy of Good Theater

Good Theater is bringing back the biggest show it’s ever presented.

The theater company in residence at the St. Lawrence Arts Center in Portland opens “Shear Madness” on Wednesday, Jan. 10, and it will run for two full months, through March 11. It presented a long run of the audience-participation comedy two winters ago and drew capacity crowds.

“It’s the biggest hit we’ve ever had, and audiences loved it. They were still growing as we were closing,” said the theater’s artistic director and co-founder, Brian P. Allen.

Allen isn’t worried that audiences will tire of the show, which has run for 38 years in Boston and 29 years in Washington, D.C. “If they can do 38 years in Boston, I think we can do another nine weeks in Portland,” Allen said.

“Shear Madness” is one of those mysteries where the audience solves a murder that happens offstage, based on clues that come out in the script. The script is fluid and changes from one performance to the next, depending on which clues the audience observes and shares with the police investigating the crime.

The story is set in a campy hair salon and involves madcap improvisation and spontaneous humor, which is very local. Allen and the cast have had fun coming up with material that’s unique to Portland and to 2018.

“There is so much new material to draw upon for jokes, locally and nationally. It’s not just Trump-bashing,” he said. “We dispense our jokes pretty evenly among the political parties, candidates, governor and whatnot. We are all pretty conscious about how we want to make our point, but we don’t want to beat things to death. No one is unscathed in our production. We are an equal-opportunity joke factory.”

The cast has to be prepared to adapt the story depending on the observations of and questions from the audience. There are three possible outcomes, and the direction of the play turns on the participation of the audience.

“Shear Madness” began at a dinner theater in Lake George, New York, in 1978. Co-creators Bruce Jordan and Marilyn Abrams shared a love of the comedy of Noel Coward and decided to adapt the German play “Scherenschnitt,” which relied on the audience to piece clues together, for American audiences. It moved to the Charles Playhouse in Boston in 1980, where it continues today. Since then, it has been produced across the country and overseas and has been seen by more than 12 million people.

Good Theater is bringing back most of the same cast from its 2016 run: Kathleen Kimball, Paul Drinan, Timothy C. Goodwin, Laura Houck and Conor Riordan Martin. The only newcomer is Joe Bearor, who plays Tony the hairdresser.

“This play has had a long run in a lot of cities around the country, and it feels like Portland is in that league now. I see no reason why we can’t have an extended run. It provides tons of employment for actors and other theater professionals, and it’s a great show for winter in Maine,” Allen said. “People need to laugh, and this is a good way to get people to laugh.”

On Jan. 20, Good Theater will open another comedy, “Love, Loss, and What I Wore,” also at St. Lawrence. It will adapt the set from “Shear Madness” to accommodate this play by Nora and Delia Ephron, who wrote it based on a book by Ilene Beckerman. It is a series of monologues about women, their relationships and their clothes.

Good Theater will run the show on weekends and on Monday and Tuesday evenings from Jan. 20 to March 11. That means that beginning the third week of January, Good Theater will have live theater every night of the week through the middle of March. Each Saturday, it will have a total of three shows – two of “Shear Madness” and one of “Love, Loss.” Sundays will have one performance of each show.

Stephen Underwood, Good Theater’s other founding partner, will direct “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” and has recruited four casts of women. Three casts will do two weeks each, and the final week will be performed by the women of Mad Horse Theatre Company. Underwood also has recruited several local celebrities to fill roles, including TV news anchors, radio hosts, politicians and writers. “We want to make this a women’s event, and we want to get as many actresses and personalities involved as possible,” he said.

There’s no better time than now to celebrate women, added Allen, who got the idea for the play in the middle of night and applied for the rights to produce it the next morning. “It’s the first time we’ve done a show that’s geared to one gender or the other, but I think that empowering women is a good thing to be doing at this time, particularly with all the headlines that have come down these past two or three months,” he said.

“Shear Madness” by Good Theater

WHERE: St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St., Portland
WHEN: Opens Wednesday, runs through March 11, with performances Wednesday through Sunday
HOW MUCH: $25 and $32
INFO: 835-0895 or
UPCOMING: Good Theater also opens the “Love, Loss and What I Wore” on Jan. 20

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