Secrets and crass shenanigans: Mortal dramas unfold at the Shear Madness salon

EIGHT WEEK RUN Conor Riordan Martin as Mikey and Michael Wood as Tony in the production of Shear Madness. EIGHT WEEK RUN Conor Riordan Martin as Mikey and Michael Wood as Tony in the production of Shear Madness.

At the Shear Madness salon on Commercial Street in Portland, the stylists are ready to “curl up and dye for you.” Have you heard that one? Except that this is a salon of the theatrical imagination, and its motto is one of many abundant tropes and intentional groaners. It’s the setting of Shear Madness – the non-traditional murder-spoof creation of Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan that has been a long-running hit in Boston and is now staged worldwide – re-created especially for Portland. Brian P. Allen directs a cast of A-list actors in the tautly paced, unabashedly lightweight and often crass shenanigans of Shear Madness, in an eight-week Good Theater run, at the St. Lawrence Arts Center. The setting is a pitch-perfect (and fully plumbed) hair salon of flamingo pink and aquamarine (rented from the Las Vegas Shear Madness company), and the show starts here with some pre-show business. This sequence, to pop hits and with no speaking lines, is a delight of sharp physical timing by ace actors; it unfolds like a gloriously long cinematic shot as it introduces us to our stock characters: the fabulously gamine salon owner Tony (Michael Wood) finesses the head of a tall client named Mikey (Conor Riordan Martin) into a sink, while blonde stylist Barbara, in leopard print (Kathleen Kimball), does her nails and the occasional shimmy. Other clients include antique dealer Eddie (Paul Drinan), rich Mrs. Shubert in red and furs (Laura Houck), and rougher-hewn Nick in a Sea Dogs jersey (Timothy C. Goodwin), who braves a shave from Wood’s effusive and oft-flitting Tony. Naturally, everyone here has secrets, as well as an arsenal of obliviously dirty malapropisms for deployment as those secrets are revealed. Along the way come myriad references customized to Portland (Portland Players, L.L. Bean, and, naturally, our esteemed Governor). Some of these could be worked in a little more fluently (do you refer to Portland’s daily paper by its full three-word name?), but then again, subtlety is not the m.o. of this show anyway. As mortal dramas (which shall not be spoiled here) unfold, scents of salon products waft, the actors gamely inhabit their caricatured roles, and the cast’s repartee and physical business (occasionally involving excess water or shaving cream) are sometimes a hoot. Kimball (who actually does work as a hair stylist, and lends verisimilitude to the enterprise) gives her Barbara tough, wry smarts; Houck looks expensive, exudes cheerful entitlement, and plays well against Drinan’s Eddie, with his shifty, stick-up-his-ass sullenness. Martin’s Mikey, with his floppy-dog smile, makes a good contrast to Goodwin’s harder-edged co-customer Nick. Goodwin has a lot besides acting to navigate (also not to be spoiled here), and does so with an engaging, workmanlike skill and persistence. And Wood’s twinkling elfin rogue of a Tony is especially delicious, with scintillating intelligence, his compact body constantly in motion – his energy does much for keeping the show buoyant. There’s an interesting dynamic in watching fine actors who are asked to play in intellectual low gear. You feel for them a little when they deliver some of the brashest, cringe-inducing groaners (these are the show’s m.o., so consider yourself forewarned), and you’re supposed to. But some of the most entertaining moments come in the seemingly impromptu little choices the actors make. The non-traditional form of the play requires some improvisation from everyone, but seeing appreciation or surprise at an out-of-the-blue moment ripple among the cast is a pleasure. I hope and suspect that this cast will keep pushing at the flamingo-and-aquamarine walls of the Shear Madness device, and that, for each show of its herculean eight-week run, they’ll ratchet the madness ever madder. Shear Madness, created and owned by Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan | Directed by Brian P. Allen | Produced by Good Theater | Through March 20. | Visit www.goodtheater.com |