Out & About: Long-running comedy now running in Portland

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Portland’s Good Theater resumes its 2015-2016 season with a comedy that boasts a couple of notable distinctions.

“Shear Madness” holds the record for America’s longest-running non-musical play. It’s been running in Boston since 1980, and now makes its Maine premiere. Second, its eight-week Portland run is the longest in Good Theater’s history – a reflection of its drawing power.

Matt Haimovitz is an Israeli-born American cellist who is noted for his outside-the-box performances and artistic collaborations. Portland Ovations is hosting Haimovitz with the British VOICE trio this Friday in a program titled “If Music Be the Food of Love.”

Noam Pikelny, banjoist with the Punch Brothers and two-time winner of International Bluegrass Music Association awards, plays on Feb. 11 at Portland’s One Longfellow Square.

‘Shear Madness’

On Jan. 29, 1980, a new comedy opened at Boston’s Charles Playhouse, and it’s still running there.

“Shear Madness” currently holds the record for America’s longest-running non-musical play, and it’s still going strong in its home city. Another production of “Shear Madness” has been running since 1987 in Washington.

There’s a good reason for this longevity, and Mainers now have ample opportunity to learn why. Good Theater, the resident thespian troupe at Portland’s St. Lawrence Arts Center, has scheduled its professional production through March 20, by far the longest in the company’s history.

It’s riotously funny. I saw “Shear Madness” when it opened last weekend and loved it.

“Shear Madness” is a comic whodunit that has a lot of audience interaction. Here’s the general situation:

There are six characters and all the action takes place over the course of a couple of hours in an urban unisex hair salon. During the first act, a woman is murdered in the apartment over the salon. Two of the customers in the salon are revealed as undercover police detectives, and they investigate the crime and interrogate the four other characters.

In the second act, the chief detective invites audience members to ask questions and propose theories. Then the audience votes. The character who garners the most votes is the guilty party, and the denouement plays out according to the audience’s decision.

The two hairdressers are the funniest characters. Kathleen Kimball plays the archetype of the dumb, ditzy blonde stereotype, a flirtatious, curvaceous and promiscuous man-chaser whose nonstop mispronunciations and malapropisms drive many of the laughs.

She’s paired with Michael Wood, who brilliantly plays a flamboyant and theatrical gay hairdresser. Two other suspects, customers in the salon at the time of the murder, are played by Paul Drinan and Laura Houck. The latter is particularly good as a rich, middle-aged housewife who’s dating other men on the sly. Timothy C. Goodwin plays the lead detective, an archetype of the dumb cop, while sidekick Conor Riordan Martin is several degrees dumber.

“Shear Madness” began as a German play by Paul Portner, and it was very cleverly translated and adapted for American audiences by Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan. The dialogue and repartee are brilliant, full of topical humor and double entendres.

Every production is set in its home city. In Portland the Shear Madness Hair Salon is located on Commercial Street in Portland, and many of the jokes reference Maine places and personalities such as DiMillo’s On the Water restaurant and Gov. Paul LePage.

There are a couple of interesting details. Kimball is a real-life hair stylist in Portland. The large and imposing set, designed by Steve Underwood, includes running water, where two characters get real-life shampoos on stage.

Good Theater presents “Shear Madness” at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) through March 20 with 7 p.m. performances Wednesday and Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Friday, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Call 885-5883.

Matt Haimovitz and VOICE

Matt Haimovitz is an Israeli-born American classical cellist who’s made his reputation through non-traditional collaborations that stretch the definition of “classical” and push art music into unexpected venues.

Although his classical cred is indisputable – Juilliard School graduate with multiple international tours with orchestras – Haimovitz is best known for pushing the proverbial creative envelope. This Friday he’ll be performing in Portland with a British a capella trio in a program that presents romantic poetry in a new light.

The program title, “If Music Be the Food of Life,” comes from William Shakespeare, and several of the musical selections are settings of Shakespearean texts. German mystical poet Hildegard von Bingen, who wrote during the Middle Ages, is represented, as well as contemporary Serbian composer Bozo Banovic, who won an international competition to create new works for this project.

VOICE is a British trio that’s known for combining three different vocal timbres into luminous, ethereal harmonies that have won numerous awards. The three women formed VOICE in 2006; they specialize in sacred and secular texts from medieval times to the present day. Like Haimovitz, they also have forged reputations for interesting collaborations.

Portland Ovations presents Matt Haimovitz and VOICE at 8 p.m. Feb. 5 at Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine Portland campus. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Noam Pikelny

Noam Pikelny is a banjo virtuoso who is best known as a founding member of the Punch Brothers, a progressive bluegrass ensemble that has forayed into some very non-traditional artistic ventures. The Punch Brothers have been to Portland several times in the recent past, and now Pikelny is coming Feb. 11 on his own.

Pikelny, who turns 35 later this month, began playing in his home town of Chicago and studied at the Windy City’s Old Town School of Folk Music. His professional breakthrough came about 10 years ago, when he collaborated with mandolinist Chris Thile on a recording. Since then he’s worked on his own and in various combinations with Thile, including the Punch Brothers. Pikelny has released two albums of his own, in 2006 and 2014.

In 2010 Pikelny won the inaugural Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass and has performed with Martin – a formidable banjo virtuoso in his own right – several times. Pikelny’s biggest year was 2014, when he copped two honors from the International Bluegrass Music Association. He won Banjo Player of the Year, and his CD, titled “Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe,” got the nod for Album of the Year.

Noam Pikleny plays One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland, at 8 p.m. Feb. 11. Call 761-1757.

“Shear Madness,” a comic whodunit that’s been playing in Boston since 1980, makes its eight-week Portland debut as Good Theatre’s first show of 2016.

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