By: Paulanne Simmons
Sheer Madness, an interactive whodunit based on a German play "Scherenschnitt" by Paul Pörtner, is the longest running play in the history of the United States, according to the "Guinness Book of World Records." Now, after 36 years in Boston, Washington and other cities, its creators, Bruce Jordan and Marilyn Abrams, are bringing the show to New York’s New World Stages, with Jordan at the helm.
The play is set in the eponymous unisex hair salon where Tony Whitcomb (Jordan Ahnquist), a flamboyantly gay man with a penchant for double entendres, and Barbara DeMarco (Kate Middleton), a D-cup, gum-chewing blonde, ply there trade. When their landlady, an aging and and eccentric pianist, is murdered, they and their customers, a shady businessman/blackmailer named Eddie Lawrence (Jeremy Kushnier) and Mrs. Shubert (Lynne Wintersteller), a wealthy socialite, all become suspects.
Nick O’Brien (Patrick Noonan), who has foolishly consented to let the razor-happy Whitcomb shave him, and Mike Thomas (Adam Gerber) first appear as customers, as well. But after the murder, they immediately reveal themselves as policemen who have been warned a crime may soon take place. It is at this point that the comedy shifts from the stage to the house.
Nick has the house lights turned on and asks the audience to help him reconstruct the crime. In fact, members of the audience seem extraordinarily adept at remembering who did what, sometimes to the chagrin of the characters onstage.
In the second act, the audience not only helps the two police officer but also decides who is the murderer. The night I saw the show, Barbara was chosen as the guilty party. And guess what? Turns out Barbara was indeed the culprit! Not a surprise after all, when we found it is actually the audience members who decide at every performance.
That the humor in Sheer Madness is based on stereotypical characters, puns, double entendres, slapstick and references to figures in the news and People magazine, doesn’t take away from its effectiveness. And it doesn’t hurt that the actors appear to be enjoying themselves as much as the audience.
Much of the show seems improvised (it probably isn’t) which only adds to the fun, especially when the actors are interacting with the audience, making a joke of where they come from or whom they came with.
For all those who have ever imagined themselves detectives, but didn’t know if they could make the cut (okay, I couldn’t resist), Sheer Madness is sheer fun.
Sheer Madness runs at New World Stages, 340 West 50 Street, in an open-ended production.