Last Night: Reefer Madness @ UCI

Last Night: Reefer Madness at UCI's Claire Trevor Theatre on June 7

Better Than: Staying home on a Saturday night to baby sit your children, or yours…OR YOURS!

Last night, a packed house at the Claire Trevor Theater at UCI watched the cast of the cannabis classic, Reefer Madness, go out in a blaze of glory in the productions final performance on Saturday. It’s a story based on the original 1936 film that spawned a cult following and a hoard of theatrical reproductions. This version, a musical written by
Dan Studney and Kevin Murphy, gave the audience a bit of the traditional high—laced with colors, sounds and songs that definitely kicked things up a notch or three.

Before the velvet curtains parted, the staunch “lecturer” (played by Sean Jackson) greeted the audience. With a stern voice and one eyebrow permanently cocked in an accusatory stare, Jackson drew plenty of laughter as he addressed the serious effect of “the leafy green assassin” on America’s youth. In a role that mimicked “Dr. Carol” in the original film, Jackson popped in and out of the production like a guilty conscious to narrate the horrible effect of the horrible hemp. Though his words and pulpit fist pounding ran thick with fire and brimstone, this was exactly the kind of serious tone that gave the original film its unintentional humor when it was rediscovered by pot heads in the 1970’s. Looking around I definitely saw a few of them laughing in the audience.

The basic plot, for those who have never seen the play (or were too stoned to remember), follows what happens when a couple of upstanding cookie-cutter high school kids fall prey to some shady drug pushers who specialize in peddling Marihuana cigarettes or “Reefers” to the woefully naïve.

One of those naïve customers is “Jimmy,” (Zachary Reiner-Harris) a sickeningly square 1930’s teenager. Reiner-Harris plays the role perfectly with the kind of goofy energy and optimism that at first made him seem like every parents wet dream. He sports bow ties, parted brown hair, sweater vests and a starched smile on his face that wins the heart of his high school sweet heart, the aptly named “Mary Lane” (Erin Roush). Together these two share a case of puppy love that has more sugar and sap than a mouthful of Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup.

However, their wholesome images go up in smoke one day at the local five and dime restaurant where Jimmy meets Jack Stone, a swanky suit wearing drug pusher who operates a run-down reefer den with his girlfriend Mae (Anna Mae Wilson) and fellow red-eyed dope fiends, Ralph (Andreas de Ronde) and Sally (Kari Hall). Once in the grips of the chronic, Jimmy goes from straight A student to a disheveled sexually aggressive maniac that puffs like a chimney and even kills kittens with chainsaws. By the end of the story, Jimmy is falsely accused or murdering sweet little Mary Lane and narrowly escapes the electric chair.

Though the production held true to the basic elements of the story, the story took some left turns that ended up making it even more entertaining than the original.

The colors and constant clouds of billowing smoke gave the set a psychedelic atmosphere that really amplified the feeling of a true face numbing high during the song and dance moment when Jimmy takes his first puff of the good stuff. Audiences cheered and exploded with laughter as an ensemble cast of dancers surrounded him with flesh colored Speedos and leotards with sewn on pot leaves to cover their naughty bits. Writhing and swirling in a colorful psycho-sexual smoke cloud on stage, it’s hard to imagine that the audience hadn’t wished for something even close to that during their first toke.

Even though laughing our asses off at ridiculous old paranoid propaganda is a delight in itself, the cast of the production definitely upped the ante of the story. They sold every line and had audiences rolling in the isles...I would know, I definitely smelled it.

Critics Notebook

Personal bias: I smoke two joints in the morning, I smoke two joints at night, I smoke two joints in the afternoon, and it makes me feel alright.

Random detail: I noticed the large rush to the café near the theater during intermission. Munchies?

By the way: Though they were hiding in the orchestra pit, the Reefer Band sounded great last night.


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