The theater empire based in... Latham

Bruce and Marilyn.jpg

Bruce and his partner Marilyn Abrams on the set of Shear Madness

Bruce Jordan is a funny, funny man.

How funny is he?

Funny enough to make 8 million people laugh.

More than 30 years ago he took a very unfunny play and turned it into Shear Madness -- the longest running play in the history of American theater.

Shear Madness has played all over the US and in more than 15 cities worldwide. Tonight the show will run in Washington DC, Boston, Albany (at Capital Rep), Charlotte, Milwaukee, Athens (Greece), Barcelona and Warsaw, just to name a few.

And Bruce Jordan runs the show from his office off-Broadway. Waaaay off Broadway.

In Latham.

How did you find this play?

In 1976 I was cast in the original German play and it was not funny at all. It was very Germanic - very "ve vill get ze killah." It was written by a Swiss psychologist, Paul Portner, and it was really more of an exercise in perception -- how different people might perceive the actions around a crime.

So what's funny about that?

Well, whenever the audience got involved the play suddenly got funny because so many people had different perceptions and argued that their perception was right. This was twenty years before plays like Tony and Tina's Wedding and other "atmospheric" shows that involved the audience. Today they're more common, but back then most folks had never seen this kind of thing. When the audience got to question the suspects, the suspects would try to defer having to answer some of those questions through humor -- so that is where the little egg of humor began.

Eventually my business partner and I bought the play from Mr. Portner and turned it into Shear Madness. Before that it was only reaching a small number of people. Now it's reaching millions. It's still built on the same principle -- the audience solving the mystery, but it's a very, very different play.

The show has been performed in cities all over the country and all over the world, does humor translate?

Some of it does. Wordplay doesn't translate and a lot of times double entendre doesn't translate. But the play changes depending on where it's performed. The actors improvise, we add jokes based on the community and it works.

When we're doing the show in other countries we bring a translator and the director over to the States and kind of work through the humor. When we did it in Barcelona they were apprehensive because they'd just come out of a dictatorship and people didn't trust the police -- so the director was afraid the audience wouldn't want to cooperate with the police in the play. So we had to make the police realllly over the top. And that got us over the hump.

You've brought the show back to the Capital Region for the summer -- so how did the show change to fit in Albany in 2009?

Albany, in a lot of ways, is the perfect place to stage a show like this because it has this small city milieu -- so everybody gets the inside jokes. There are jokes about the legislature and the governor, bull's-eye stickers -- the mayor's tan. And when you make them, everybody knows and everybody laughs.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Shear Madness is playing at Capital Rep this summer. You may have noticed that Cap Rep has been advertising the show here on AOA. That's not why we spoke to Bruce -- we just thought it was interesting that the longest running play in the country was produced here.


My wife and I went Friday. It was our first show at Capital Rep. I was a bit skeptical going in but I must say that it was hilarious. I can see why it's had such a long shelf life. Bravo!

My wife and I went to see it as a group with 8 others. The quick wit and comedy is fantastic. The more audience participation, the better. We would recommend to everyone. It would be madness to miss it.

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