Reno, NV 89501
A high school principal gathers teachers and concerned citizens together to alert them to a new, deadly drug menace. No, it’s not Crystal Darkness. It’s Reefer Madness, the musical-comedy.
Reefer Madness, the 1999 stage play by Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney, is based on the 1936 anti-drug film of the same name which became a cult-classic after college students in the ‘60s realized it was really fun to watch when high. Set in 1936, the story, in brief, is this: Innocent youngsters are exposed to marijuana. After a single puff, they become hopeless addicts, and very bad things happen.
The play comes out of the trend popular in the 1990s to remake bad entertainment (like The Brady Bunch TV show) into intentionally bad entertainment (like The Brady Bunch Movie). These remakes shared the implication that the works they were based on were stupid, naïve and/or tacky. The newer works were, in contrast, smart and “ironic.”
So where the movie Reefer Madness is funny because it is totally earnest—and totally ignorant about the effects of marijuana—the play attempts to be funny by being trashy and grotesque. Everything is heightened. Instead of a hit-and-run resulting in injury, there is a hit-and-run resulting in death. Instead of neglecting his studies, the main character burgles a church. And copulates with furniture. There might even be cannibalism, but let’s not give everything away.
Unfortunately, the lyrics aren’t as clever as they should be, and the jokes tend to be obvious. So despite its smug knowingness, the play isn’t very smart.
Aside from the deficiencies of the play itself, the Brüka production, directed by Scott Beers with musical direction by Bill Quinby, adds several memorable touches. The hit-and-run scene is genuinely tense, with great effect achieved with just a strobe light and simple white panels with line drawings representing automobiles. Lurid green and spiraling red lights represent appropriately (one assumes) the hellish descent into marijuana addiction.
The play is best when it’s at its least “satirical"—specifically, during big song-and-dance numbers. Kristin Moffit is great in her soda-shop dance duet with Andy Luna. And who could argue with the glory of a musical show-stopper performed by a police officer, a few angels, Satan, a cheerleader, a grown man dressed in a baby bonnet and a diaper, and Jesus Christ? No one who sees the play soon forgets the image of the entire cast wearing nothing but body stockings and decorative pot leaves writhing around a smoke-billowing, five-foot-tall hookah.
The roles, though entirely caricatures, are tackled by the cast with enthusiasm and a good sense of fun. Michael Grimm plays the moralist lecturer with the right balance of humor and restraint—tongue in cheek, but not over the top. Andy Luna plays Jack the reefer dealer as a classic Hollywood heavy (think Dan Duryea) and also provides one of the play’s highlights as a Wayne Newton-style Jesus.
Robert Grant and Lauren Logan, playing the romantic leads Jimmy and Mary, are ridiculously sunny and innocent. That is, until they’re in the grip of the demon weed. Dale Fast, as reefer addict Ralph, is a manic freak-show. Amy Ginder manages to provide her drug moll Mae with something approaching genuine emotion. And Lacey Mattison as the tramp Sally—well, what can you say? She’s really trampy. And though clearly not everyone in the cast is a trained singer, the singing is consistently good.
You really can’t debate what is funny. Though the reviewer, a grim humorless type, didn’t laugh much, the rest of the audience did. And, supposedly, the play totally makes sense if you’re stoned.