Arts » Theater

Experience the Paranoia of Marijuana Hysteria in Reefer Madness at Blank Canvas Theatre

The blunt truth: weed kills!



About this time of the year, you may be looking for an alternative to the usual holiday intoxicants. Let's face it, a spiked eggnog can get a little nasty after the fourth or fifth one, turning your intestines into an egg-y, rumbling slush of cream, nutmeg and Black Jack. And while snorting ground Christmas wreaths and patchouli may sound festive, the results can be iffy.

Better to stick with a proven source, such as good old-fashioned marijuana. And while we certainly don't advocate inhaling the laughing lettuce (heaven forfend!), there's another way to ingest some ganja fun with Reefer Madness now at Blank Canvas Theatre. This raucous musical — with music by Dan Studney, lyrics by Kevin Murphy and book by both — is a giggle-fest whether you're high when you see it or not.

The play has the same title as, and is based upon, the 1936, grade-Z flick which was originally funded by a church to warn high school kids away from the wacky tobacky. (Well, that worked.) Little did they know back then that 420 would gain such common acceptance that it's now legal in several states and probably headed towards complete legalization across the country.

But back then, when Hitler was on the march and Japan was inching closer to war, the one thing that really terrified some communities in America were the blunts that kids were toking on behind the barn or next to the soda shop in town. The posters on display on the Blank Canvas stage capture the hysteria of the time, with lines such as: "Assassin of Youth," "The Devil's Weed," and "Weed with Roots in Hell."

Indeed, in some quarters it was felt that even one puff of a spliff would send a normal, church-going teen reeling down a death spiral to murder and insanity. The original movie plumbed all those possibilities, and this clever stage parody matches the intensity of anti-blunt paranoia right from the start.

In the opening song, "Reefer Madness," a rabble-rousing lecturer (played to the hilt by Derrick Winger) is warning of the dangers: "Creeping like a communist it's knocking on our doors/Turning all our children into hooligans and whores." And then his argument is capped with the closer: "If you fail to draw the line, your babies will be next!" While the thought of a baby puffing contentedly on maryjane is both impossible and weirdly satisfying, it sets the stage for what is to come.

Local nerd Jimmy Harper is in love with his main squeeze Mary Lane (Wait! That sounds just like ... !), and while they're getting ready to go to the prom, a pot pusher named Jack invites Jimmy back to his reefer den for a free doobie hit. Seconds later, Jimmy is whirling through an orgy populated by belly dancers, unusual people indulging in non-approved sex acts, and a horned satyr thrown in for good measure.

It's all played for laughs and, under the relentless direction of Patrick Ciamacco, the chuckles come as steadily as if you were mainlining the chronic yourself. He wisely keeps all his actors playing their parts in a straightforward and appropriately florid manner, allowing the witty lyrics and other staging effects to provide the humor. Those effects include projections of quotes such as, "Reefer gets you raped and you won't care!" And at crucial junctures throughout the play, the title card "Reefer Madness" is shown, accompanied by a chorus chanting those two words with dread intent.

As Mae, the madam of the reefer den and Jack's abused girlfriend, Kate Leigh Michalski has a number of amusing moments, particularly in her solo "The Stuff," in which she croons: "He throws me down the stairs, but deep inside he cares/He buys me lingerie, and the stuff!" Michael Crowley lends a sleazy charm to the pusher Jack, and Trey Gilpin giggles with an amped-up, bud-fueled authenticity as stoner Ralph. Colleen McGaughey plays the weed slut Sally who neglects her baby, but the infant gets its own solo. And even Jesus (Aaron Patterson) makes an appearance in silver short shorts and a glitter robe singing: "I'm here to help you, Jimmy, and return you to the fold/Try filling your lungs with God, and not Jamaican Gold."

As for the innocent teens, Cory Zukowski's Jimmy is the perfect dweeb in his horn-rimed glasses. And after he's hooked, he becomes a raging lunatic until he encounters sweet and innocent Mary (Neely Gevaart), who turns into a snarling dominatrix once she gets some tree in her bloodstream. Yes, tragedy awaits!

If you love parodies, this one is a keeper. And even though there were some audio problems on this night, with a number of lines getting over-ridden by the band, you'll no doubt hear enough to keep you chortling for the duration.

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