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Taking a little off the (over the) top

The audience sees a different play every night in Drayton Entertainment’s interactive adventure, Shear Madness.

Set in a hair salon and sporting a whodunit theme, the play’s outcome depends entirely on the audience.

“It’s an interactive comedy-mystery that brings audiences back, again and again, to help solve the crime,” said artistic director Alex Mustakas of the production.

The plot revolves around the murder of pianist Isabel Czerny, who is attacked on the second floor of the Shear Madness hair salon building. Spectators are introduced to the flamboyant hairdresser Tony Whitcomb (played by Robbie Towns) and manicurist Barbara DeMarco (played by Jacquelyne French).

“There’s subtle cattiness between the two of them,” explained Kevin SePaul, who plays detective Nick Rosetti in the performance. “There’s their favourite client, Eleanor Schubert, a rich socialite, played by Andrea Risk. She comes into the salon, and they’re all fussing over her.”

They are joined by Barbara’s love interest, antique dealer Eddie Lawrence (Gord Gammie), goofy police officer Mikey Thomas (Gregory Pember) and his superior officer, Rosetti. It’s up to the audience to figure out who the killer is out of these six cast members in this Clue-like experience.

“We involve the audience. I call them the audience, but now they become witnesses to that earlier event in which she’s murdered,” said SePaul. “So we recreate the events with the help of those witnesses. Then they ask questions; they provide evidence; they’re really the seventh character. Everything goes in the direction they suggest.”

The plot is dependent on these witnesses, so much so that perpetrator changes with every new audience. However, the motivation for the murder always remains the same.

Much of the humour revolves around topical references to current events and improvisational comedy, which has been subject to change over the years.

“There’s a lot of ridiculous on-the-spot comedy,” said SePaul. “There’s very much an environmental feel to the whole thing – that’s the magic of the show.”

SePaul has been performing in the play since 1998. Since no one knows what the outcome of any given performance will be, there’s no chance of monotony setting in for the cast members.

After performing for two decades, he has seen plenty of changes to the script, significant differences in the outcomes, and even varying audience trends over the years.

“I think people are a little more outspoken, a little more active, and a little bit more proactive about involving themselves than they were 20 years ago,” he noted. “Maybe they’ve seen other shows like this before.”

It is difficult to keep track of everything going on in the play for every audience member. For example, there are several scenes where there is so much activity going on in the salon it is challenging to keep track. But what happens if audience members disagree with one another?

“Sometimes they disagree, sometimes they can’t remember,” said SePaul. “Fortunately, I remember and so does the rest of the cast. There are certain things written down in a book that we learn, so it’s not like a free-for-all.”

The cast follows a particular pattern and do their best to keep things in order. However, sometimes things get wildly out of order, and it’s up to cast members to roll with it.

The Guinness World Records lists Shear Madness as the longest-running play in American history. German playwright Paul Pörtner penned the script in 1963.

“He wanted to explore the idea of the inaccurate witness,” said SePaul. “And that’s what the play is based upon – people watching a play and recreating it – but can they recreate it 100 per cent? And a lot of times, they don’t. They miss out on stuff; it takes a different turn. There’s a whole heap of current jokes piled on top of that. A lot of topical references that we’ll say.”

Shear Madness runs at the St. Jacobs County Playhouse until December 23. Tickets can be purchased on the Drayton Entertainment website or by calling the box office at (519) 747-7788.

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