Shear Madness

Drama
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Editorial Review

It's touristy, but go anyway

Friday, October 30, 2009

There are things that native Washingtonians or even longtime Washingtonians are too hip by far to be caught dead doing:

-- Going to the top of the Washington Monument.

-- Waiting in line to see the Declaration of Independence.

-- Catching "Shear Madness" at the Kennedy Center.

Those activities are exclusively the purview of fanny-pack-wearing tourists from Dublin or Des Moines, Kansas or California. Never mind that those visitors can see more of the nation's capital in four days than we residents see in four -- or 14 -- years.

Here's the issue with our hipness. We miss out on a lot of what the city has to offer. For example, the view from the monument really is spectacular, the Declaration is a lot more faded than it appears in "National Treasure" and "Shear Madness" is the very definition of a guilty pleasure.

The play, a comic whodunit set in a Georgetown hair salon, has been playing to sold-out houses (yes, really) at the Kennedy Center's Theater Lab for more than 20 years.

There's nothing subtle about the humor here, which relies heavily on torn-from-today's-headlines, inside-the-Beltway political references and the willingness of the audience to be part of the show. A plus: It's a stage production that tweens and teens can enjoy.

At one point in the play, antiques dealer Eddie Lawrence (Rahmein Mostafavi) asserts his innocence only to be stopped in his tracks by novice police detective Mikey Thomas (Matthew R. Wilson), who cries out, "You lie!"

Okay, so it was easy to see that coming from a mile away; it was also impossible not to laugh at the way it played for effect.

During the second act, the audience becomes the seventh member of the cast, posing questions and pointing out discrepancies in the suspects' stories -- and in the process becoming a foil for the impressive improvisational skills of the acting troupe.

During a re-creation of the crime, the actors are asked to assume their positions at the moment of the murder. When Mostafavi takes a different seat on the sofa, a keen-eyed audience member calls him on it.

"Lady, you mean you stopped this entire production to make me move down one spot on the sofa?" he scoffs -- but he scoots down to his correct spot.

When a spectacled high school student from Connecticut asks a key question, Mostafavi is at it again. "Oh fine, Mr. Smarty-Pants, Nerdy Glasses, you're right. Are you happy now?"

Did we mention that this is not "Macbeth"?

It is, instead, the theatrical equivalent of eating a pint of Cherry Garcia on the sofa while watching HGTV.

Go, laugh, escape. Why should the tourists have all the fun?

-- Tracy Grant