Walljasper steals the show in Circa’s hilarious ‘Shear Madness’
It’s not often I say a performer steals a show in an ensemble piece, but I feel confident in saying that Tom Walljasper definitely steals the show in “Shear Madness.” Walljasper is so flamboyant and over-the-top funny, grabbing every scene he’s in with some brazen move or line, that it’s impossible to ignore him, not that you’d want to.
“Shear” is a very funny, entertaining show. It was on the night I saw it. On the night you see it, it might be even funnier. I say that because it changes from night to night. Not just in the nuances, but in the big strokes. “Shear” is a malleable script that’s been localized and is, at each show, partially improvised, with the help of the audience.
Here’s the framework: The show is set in a hair salon. Within the salon are the co-owners and hairdressers (Walljasper and Jennifer Poarch), a suspicious customer (Brad Hauskins), a regular (Carrie SaLoutos), and two detectives, the lead (Jeff Haffner) and his partner (Tristan Tapscott.)
I loved the way Sean McCall directed the show. He keeps things loose and lets the performers roam, and frames scenes in a subtly clever way that’s delightfully nuanced. For example, while the lights are still on and the pre-show glow is still ostensibly dimming off and people are finishing up their coffee and desserts, he’s got action going on onstage in a nice little cold opening that offers some amusing moments and a few clues as to what’s to come, but you’ve got to be paying attention to get them. It’s a wonderful move, because quite frankly, most people aren’t paying much attention, thinking it’s just a curiosity or window dressing thrown into the mix. It’s quite clever.
Then with a boom it begins, and it’s off to the races. Walljasper is flitting about in a manic state, ripping off sassy one-liners and dishing out jabs as he ostensibly gives a shave to Haffner, Hauskins waits his turn, and Poarch is busy attending to SaLoutos, who has come in for a full style. While this is going on, their upstairs neighbor is loudly playing her piano, much to the annoyance of all. There’s saucy dialogue, ripostes and cheeky banter, just like you’d get at pretty much any hair salon around the Quad-Cities, especially one populated with a wild, flamboyant character like Walljasper’s.
Now, before I go on, let me address the pink elephant in the room. Yes, Walljasper’s character is gay. Yes, some will see it as a caricature, and some may be offended and see it as a stereotype. That’s even addressed in the show, when he’s called a stereotype and he replies “I’m not the stereotype, I’m the prototype.” Within all tropes and clichés there is an element of truth. I’m not gay. But I have known, been friends with and hung around with a lot of gay people. I’m not saying that like “Hey, everyone, I’ve got a gay buddy! Aren’t I a hipster?” I’m saying that to set a baseline that I’ve known a lot of gay people, and I’ve known a lot of gay people of different types. Some conservative, some liberal, some quiet, some boring and some, yes, very wild and flamboyant. I have known a few that are exactly like Walljasper’s character, and in fact two of them were hairstylists who cut my hair for a number of years. I don’t think Walljasper’s character is meant to be a stereotype. I think it’s just meant to be a character type that reflects a certain segment of a population, the same way Haffner’s character isn’t meant to represent all cops, but certainly represents a certain segment of that population. Will some people be offended? Maybe. But I hope most aren’t, because I don’t think his portrayal is meant to be offensive in any way.
Ok, back down off the soap box.
At any rate, the stage is set that this is just like any other day at the hair salon, with the characters coming and going from the room, chatting and getting their work done at a snail’s pace.
Until . . . the upstairs neighbor is discovered murdered.
Then . . . everything changes.
Quickly, the two cops reveal themselves as undercover detectives who were staking out the place due to a suspected blackmail plot. They turn the salon into an episode of “Law and Order” and begin piecing together the crime and trying to figure out who, among all the suspects in the salon, was the most likely culprit.
And they do this with the help of the audience. Much like the popular interactive murder-mystery shows which have swept the Quad-Cities over the last decade plus, the audience is asked to help solve the murder by offering questions and clues, asking the characters direct inquiries, and generally becoming part of the show until its resolution, which is determined by audience vote. Now, I compare this to the murder mysteries which have been around the area for a while, but the fact is, “Shear” predates all of them. Much like Walljasper’s character, this is not the stereotype, this is the prototype. It’s been a hit show since the mid-‘80s and I remember, growing up in Chicago, seeing the ads for it all over TV. It’s not surprising why it’s had such enduring appeal. You can be as involved or uninvolved as you want as an audience member, but there’s something fun about being a part of things, and something even more amusing about being there as the performers improvise something new right before your eyes. At its best, it’s electrifying. But you need the right performers.
Some of the performers do better with this than others, and you can tell right off that the two heavyweights in the room are Walljasper and Hauskins, which is absolutely no surprise given their extensive backgrounds in acting and improvisational comedy. The other actors do a good job, but the constraints of their characters also keep them something in check. For example, having worked with Tapscott before, I know he’s a hilarious performer, but his laughs in this show are mostly asides, due to the nature of his character.
But that’s just fine, because in Hauskins and Walljasper, Circa has perfectly cast the yin-and-yang lightning rods of the show, the man with the snide, dry humor jabs and the one with the over-the-top torching the room machine gun blasts of hilarity.
Because of this, and so many other reasons, “Shear Madness” is a must-see for its performances and its potential. It’s an extremely fun show, and it’s the perfect show to bring a group of friends to for a fun night out. Have yourself some dinner, a few cocktails, relax and enjoy and join in with the fun.