Shear Madness allows audience to play detective in whodunit

Put a sensitive barber, a trashy beautician, a shady antique dealer, a rich old lady and a couple of detectives together in a funky hair salon and what’s the result? Shear Madness.

Shear Madness is D.C.’s longest running non-musical play. It has been performed more than 4,000 times at the Kennedy Center since 1987. The funny whodunit resembles a mix of the television show “Murder She Wrote,” and the film Clue. The show focuses on solving the murder of an unseen character, Isabel Czerny, a retired concert pianist.

The first half of the play sets the scene for the murder. It is filled with corny jokes and clich?s, which elicit a chuckle or two. Many of the jokes are geared toward Washingtonians. One character asks, “What does he do?” and another responds, “He’s a diplomat – he doesn’t do anything.” The show also pokes fun at current events, which, as expected, yields many Clinton jokes.

After the characters are established, Barbara, the trashy beautician, lets loose a horror-movie scream, and the lights go out. Then, the second part of the play begins, and the detective tries to piece together the events that led up to the murder.

That is where Shear Madness becomes fun. The house lights are turned on, and the cast re-enacts the play. The audience members participate in the performance, telling the cast members when they are lying about the crime.

The best part about Shear Madness is the cast members’ spontaneity, reacting to the audience’s questions and comments. No one, including the cast, knows what is going to happen next. But the cast’s ability to stay in character and improvise with wit showcases the actors’ talents.

The detective mingles with the audience members during intermission. He answers questions and listens to their theories about who committed the murder.

Shear Madness‘ appeal is that each performance is different. The audience plays an integral part in each performance. No two shows could ever be the same. Shear Madness, however, is not for theater buffs looking for a play with deep, profound meaning. Its light, fluffy humor provides a fun evening.


Shear Madness runs indefinitely at the Kennedy Center. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday at 9 p.m., Saturday at 6 and 9 p.m., and Sunday at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 for performances Sunday through Thursday and $29 for Friday and Saturday performances.

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