‘Sheer Madness’ at The Kennedy Center by Amanda Gunther

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Sheer genius foams up as the 25th Anniversary performances of Shear Madness begin at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Heading for its 12,000th performance, the comic whodunit is edgy and sharp, witty and poignant, and will create a hair-raising adventure with a different twist every night. The shop opens up in modern day Georgetown the zany plot engages the audience to helping this flat-foot detectives solve a maddening murder mystery – who killed the world renowned concert pianist residing in the apartment above the unisex hair salon? With up-to-the-minute topical humor, including current pop-cultural and political references, the added element of advanced improvisational techniques, and the help of the audience the show is one daring do’ that you won’t want to miss!

Tony (Joe Sampson) Mrs. Shubert (Brigid Cleary), and Barbara (Tiernan Madorno). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Directed by Bruce Jordan, this show provides escalated levels of hilarity that will keep you bursting at the seams all night long. Between the physical slapstick of the performers, the sharp as a tack insulting jokes, and the dynamic improvisations this show is a keeper for everyone to enjoy. The hybrid fusion of live improv and physical comedy creates an exhilarating new way for the audience to enjoy the show; combining moments of sheer brilliance with completely unexpected events as the actors forge their way into the dueling territories of the well-rehearsed and the completely unknown. It’s literally a different show every night and something that is so well executed you could easily see it half a dozen times and never get bored.

The original set design, created by Kim Peter Kovac, is adapted to reflect modern changes by Set Designer Scott L. Hammar. The color scheme is garish and obnoxiously bright letting you know right from the moment you see it that you’re in for something insane. Hot pink beauty chairs with brigh sea blue and teal accents on the walls give your eyes plenty to take in as the shop springs to life on a typical day in Georgetown with all its usual clientele.

The show starts up with a wildly entertaining comic pantomime scene before it even officially begins; wrangling the audience’s attention as the fabulous stylist, his ditzy apathetic assistant and a business man work through hilarious silent actions to shake things up. This is just a sampling of the flawless execution of physical slapstick style comedy that easily runs circles around the Three Stooges.

The characters play to their strengths, making each of their personalities glow like platinum blonde highlights as the show builds to its killer conclusion. This is particularly true of Tony (Joe Sampson) the shop stylist. Sampson engages a hysterical stereotype boarding on an exaggerated caricature for his character of the over-stressed, over-worked, under-paid, gay stylist on the DC metro scene. The man has so much energy exploding from both his body and his mouth that if you plugged him in he could power the capital’s power grid for a month. His mannerisms and flamboyant affectations add a level comic exuberance as he panders to the stereotype and hams up every moment he’s on stage.

Sampson is an engaging trouble maker. His understanding of comic timing, like all of the players in this whacky game, is impeccable – so much so that it becomes a competition of trying to see which one of his cast mates he can break into a fit of hysterics first. The relationships he creates with the others are wildly uproarious but none so entertaining as the one he creates with Nick (Patrick Noonan) the pair creating such ridiculous antics between them that you’ll laugh so hard you’ll start crying.

Noonan becomes the comic ringleader of sorts as he handles the audience. Playing the role of lead detective he showcases an intensive working knowledge of his improvisational skills, mastering the most difficult task for a live performer; controlling the audience. The majority of his role depends on crowd control, taking questions getting them rowdy in one moment and deathly quiet the next. Noonan exhibits excellent leadership qualities and masters the idea of a none-too bright detective with just a turn of phrase.

While the main nonsense occurs between Sampson and Noonan there are climactic moments of hilarity that occur with the rest of the cast as well. The three crazy suspects, in addition to Tony being a suspect, make this production an absolute smash success. Barbara DeMarco, Eddie Lawrence, and Mrs. Shubert; intricately crafted characters that build the suspense and the laugh moments throughout the show.

The salon assistant Barbara (Tiernan Madorno) is another stereotype; ditzy girl with a Jersey shore attitude subplanted into the suburbs of DC. Madorno is feisty as she clacks around the stage in her super-high fire-engine red stilettos, stirring up suspicions with her gum-popping attitude and her strange encounters with Eddie (Aaron Shields.) As a slender retro-grade version of William Shatner incarnate (you’ll double check your playbill he looks that similar) Shields provides an element of suspicion to the show, creeping about without any real answers to anything.

Both Madorno and Shields come into their element when trying to tell their story to Noonan and his partner Mikey Thomas (played by Jonathan Lee Taylor.) And their interactions with Mrs. Shubert (Brigid Cleary) are priceless. Cleary adapts the spastic gracefully aging aristocrat to the show with finesse and a zany quality that makes people enjoy trying to determine whether or not she should even be a suspect.

This little squad of performers delivers political zingers, pop-cultural zappers, and jolts of dark humor that in cases may even be topically “too soon” making the show that much more entertaining.

This is one sassy style that you won’t want to miss. Get your sleuthing gear ready and be prepared – the ride can get pretty hairy.

Mikey (Jonathan Lee Taylor) Tony (Joe Sampson) and Barbara (Tiernan Madorno). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Running Time: Two hours with one intermission.

Shear Madness plays Tuesday through Friday evenings at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 6:00pm and 9:00pm, Sundays at 3:00pm and 7:00pm in The Kennedy Center’s Theater Lab. For ticket reservations call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.