Dallas — Plan on arriving early at Theatre Three's Shear Madness. This relentlessly manic comedy whodunit features some pre-show foolery that shouldn't be missed.
And don't stray too far during intermission. That's when cast member Bradley Campbell strolls into the snug lobby of the basement Theatre Too space, pen and notebook in hand, and announces: “All right, folks, I'm ready to hear some theories.”
Bradley portrays Police Lt. Nick O'Brien, who is investigating the murder that took place midway through Act I. The gimmick of this comedy is that the identity of the killer is determined by audience vote. Audience members also question the suspects.
Obviously, then, the play's outcome can change with each performance. So, in fact, does the actor/playgoer badinage. So what's essential here is a cast capable of taking creative detours from the script. Director Marty Van Kleeck, herself a gifted comic actor, has assembled a superb ensemble skilled in improv, but with a sense of how far—and long—to take the insanity.
The setting is the Shear Madness hair salon in Dallas. (The locale usually matches the city where a given production is playing.) In the pre-show frenzy we watch B.J. Cleveland, as stylist Tony Whitcomb, attack the hair of David Meglino, as customer Eddie. The blow-drying brutality, and the phone calls, are done in mime. Once the play starts, the actors find their voices and unleash a torrent of malapropisms. One character is accused of being a "congenital liar." Another says “Lesbianese” instead of “Lebanese.” And you can guess what they do with the name of cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Gene Raye Price bustles around the snug stage as a society matron who may be an adulteress. Sherry Hopkins is a stylist who bends the script creatively. And Matthew Clark bungles engagingly as the junior detective on the case. He had some trouble with his sidearm opening night. It will be interesting to see if director Van Kleeck decides to retain the mishap.
All of the cast members interact with the audience, remaining in character during intermission. Cleveland interacts more than others. It's apparent that he strays the farthest from the script, but he does it quite well.
Local references abound. You want a lawyer joke? How about one that also tips the hat to Sue Loncar, majordoma of Contemporary Theatre of Dallas.
Jac Alder's set is bright and busy. Ditto the costumes, designed by Van Kleeck.
The play, which has been running for decades in Boston, was originally a psychological exercise designed to demonstrate perceptions of reality. Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan adapted Paul Portner's script for the stage.
It's a merry bit of mayhem.