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Civil rights attorney John Burris made a valiant effort to get his client off the hook, but a jury a few weeks ago found the man guilty of murder. After all, they saw the antique dealer at the scene of the crime with blood on his hands. The verdict is unlikely to stand up, however, since the jurors in this case constantly change their mind. They are audience members participating in San Francisco’s hit play “Shear Madness.” During each performance the playgoers vote on who committed the crime. Burris was one of four San Francisco Bay Area attorneys who appeared in cameo roles in the April 23 production. Angela Alioto, Morrison & Foerster partner James Brosnahan and civil rights attorney William Osterhoudt also took the stage to defend each of the suspects. John Keker, of Keker & Van Nest, was on call as an understudy. The comedy whodunit, set in a San Francisco hair salon, centers on the murder of a concert pianist living above the salon. The police investigator asks the audience for help in solving the crime. They shout out questions, point out discrepancies in testimony, and ultimately choose the killer. In the April 23 show, however, the attorneys got a few minutes to argue on behalf of their clients. One of the characters, wealthy Nob Hill socialite Mrs. Schubert, relied on Brosnahan for the defense. She told the audience that his wife, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Carol Brosnahan, is a personal friend. “Hi, Muffy,” she yelled, waving to the judge, who was sitting in the audience. Brosnahan drew laughter when he told the audience they might be offended by petty theft (Mrs. Schubert had stolen a bottle of perfume). But he said his client lacked motive, means and opportunity since she never left the audience’s sight. Alioto was introduced as a Libra who won a $133 million anti-discrimination case against Wonderbra. “Wonder bread,” Alioto huffily corrected her client. Raising questions about her client’s guilt, Alioto said Burris had given her defense advice. “I don’t do criminal law,” Alioto quipped. “I’m guessing at this stuff.” And Osterhoudt argued that his client is too impetuous to plan a murder. “He’s a bon vivant who loves life and a lot of the people in it,” Osterhoudt said. Touted as the longest-running play in the history of American theater, “Shear Madness” has been performed in cities around the country since 1980 and is now entering its fifth season in San Francisco. The cast includes a gay hairdresser whose one-liners and antics make the actors in the television show “Will & Grace” seem staid. Producers invited the attorneys to make a one-time appearance to help raise funds for the Volunteer Legal Services Program of the Bar Association of San Francisco. Alioto said she agreed to take the role since it was for a good cause and the producers’ pitch appealed to her. “They said, ‘don’t take yourself so seriously. Come and have some fun,’ ” Alioto said. Although they didn’t rehearse for their roles, the attorneys went to see the show to prepare their arguments. While they are accustomed to the limelight, this was their first professional stage appearance. Alioto and Burris took acting courses early in their careers. Brosnahan said his connections to the stage were limited to his children. One of his daughters is an opera singer, and his son, a dance teacher, choreographed the movie “James and the Giant Peach.” “The old man goes down to court and carries on with histrionics and so forth,” Brosnahan said. But he does have another cameo appearance in a movie being released by Sony Pictures Classics in September. “Haiku Tunnel” ends with a shot of Brosnahan, who plays a senior partner of a big law firm. Brosnahan doesn’t expect future offers, however. The “Shear Madness” gig, he said, was “a one-time event.”

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