Before there was Clue, Knives Out, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, there was the comedic whodunit, Shear Madness. The longest-running play in American history, Shear Madness mixes elements of comedy, murder mystery, improvisation, and audience interaction to create a one-of-a-kind theatrical experience. In FST's production of the hit show, Luis E. Rivera plays Eddie Lawrence, a suave and charming con man who supposedly has some business dealings with Isabel Czerny, whose unexpected murder kicks off the play's action.
We sat down with Luis to discuss his character, Eddie, the challenges of the show, and why he thinks Shear Madness is so successful, more than 40 years after it first took the stage.
Tell us about your character, Eddie Lawrence.
Eddie is charming, put-together, but all in all, a bit of a slime ball. He’s out for himself and wants to become more than what he is—a simple antiques dealer, which may or may not be a front for his shady nature. Eddie gets ticked off when people do not take him seriously. Eddie wants to become a “somebody” when, in reality, he’s nobody. Anyone who picks on this characteristic of Eddie will see a different side of him.
Since parts of Shear Madness are improvised and each audience votes on who they believe is the true killer—with the outcome changing night to night—no two performances of the play are the same. What is the most challenging aspect of performing in a show like this? What is the most rewarding?
The most challenging aspect of Shear Madness is getting the show into your body as quickly as possible. Each of us in the cast must know the entire show from front to back. You've also got to know every other character as well, so you can be on top of your game when something happens that takes you in a slightly different direction. The most rewarding part of being part of Shear Madness has much to do with the audience, and how they interact and respond to our improvisation and hyper-local references.
You also played Eddie in The Straz Center's production of Shear Madness. Is there anything you've learned about your character, or the show itself, from your time at The Straz or at FST?
Eddie Lawrence is a character I have had to build from the ground up. Before starting rehearsals at The Straz, I didn’t know anything about Shear Madness. I had never seen it before, and I LOVED IT. So many times we, as actors, get used to watching others do a character and then we fall into the creative trap of copying what they do and just getting by. It's very rare that we are given an opportunity and a script that’s completely new to us.
Even now, I am constantly learning things about Eddie. One thing I will say is that, before the action of the play unfolds, I don’t believe he’s ever killed anyone. He’s not the type. He’s certainly a shady character and a con man who has had run-ins with the law, but if he did commit murder, this would be his first.
You also worked with show director Bruce Jordan at The Straz. What was it like to work with Bruce again on the same show, but with different cast mates?
Working with Bruce Jordan can be a bit daunting, but ultimately a rewarding experience, both as an actor and a human being. He’s been doing Shear Madness for years and knows what works and what’s doesn't. Getting the show on its feet is a collaborative effort and we work together to make the experience come to life for our audience and our team. My castmates here are just wonderful.
There is always going to be a learning curve when it comes to Shear Madness because every production will feature different players who will perform with different inflections, personalities, embellishments, etc. You have to find a way to play with these new people. I admit, I was nervous about joining to this cast because of their experience with the show—Jordan Ahnquist, Gil Brady, and Lisa McMillan have all done Shear Madness half-a-dozen times. However, they have welcomed me as one of their own, and I am constantly learning from their incredible use of space and dialogue.
Shear Madness has been produced at venues around the world and ran for over 40 years. What is it about this play that makes it so successful?
What I believe makes this play so successful is the fact that it includes EVERYONE. It makes fun of everyone and celebrates everyone, no matter the political, social, economic stances, etc. There is a crisis in the Shear Madness salon, and everyone comes together to solve the murder. This is truly the magic of this wonderful play, and I couldn’t be more honored to be part of this act of service to our global community.
Due to continued audience demand, Shear Madness has been extended three times and is now playing through July 9, 2023. For tickets and more information, click here.
Header Image: Jordan Ahnquist, Gina Milo, Lisa McMillan, and Luis E. Rivera. Photo by John Jones.