THEATRE in Malaysia rarely breaks the invisible fourth wall – the unseen barrier between the stage and the audience — in such a dramatic scale as found in Shear Madness.
The play, which has been running for over 30 years in Boston’s Charles Playhouse, is malleable to any city. In this instance at the PJ Live Arts Centre, Shear Madness is set in Happy Gardens in Section 17, Petaling Jaya.
It’s a funny play with punch lines filled with local references as, for instance, “here in Selangor, your vote does count”.
Restaged by Gardner& Wife Theatre for the second time since May in 2014, due to its popularity, Shear Madness is set in a unisex hair salon where we soon learn that the landlady, a famous pianist called Isabel Fernandez, has been killed in her room upstairs with a pair of scissors.
Two undercover policemen (played by Phoon Chi Ho and Alfred Loh), investigating a case of suspected blackmail; solve the murder – with the help of the audience.
Of the six-member cast, Qahar Aqilah was charming as the happy hair salon proprietor Tomy Gun. He brought believability to the oft-times stereotyped gay hairdresser with a sweet BabaNyonya heritage and speech mannerisms.
Marina Tan was effervescent as the “red light district” beautician Chanel while Junji Delfino lent a gentle strength to her Datin Schubert character.
The other suspect, an antiques dealer and suspected blackmailer, was played by Na’a Murad with a nice, huffy dignity.
Phoon, as the police inspector, stayed in his role all throughout the play, including the intermission when the audience could ask him questions.
After the murder of Isabel, the play is restaged with the help of the audience, hence the “breaking of the fourth wall”. After the intermission, the audience gets to question the suspects.
Three suspects were decided on by the inspector and the audience voted on them. Last Thursday night, the suspicion was most on Tomy Gun, a first for the play in all its stagings.
Directed by Richard Gardner, I enjoyed the attention to timing and details with props that were integral to the murder mystery.
Among its many accolades, Shear Madness has also received the Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America, and is the first play ever inducted into the US Comedy Hall of Fame.
** This review appeared in the now-defunct malaysianinsider in Dec 2014.