Dominion Stage Reefer MadnessBy Joe Adcock • Jan 19th, 2010 • Category: Reviews
Gunston Theatre One, Arlington, VA
Through January 30
2:00 with one intermission
Reviewed January 15th, 2010
There really was an allegedly educational and blatantly propagandist film called Reefer Madness. It was made in 1936. Prohibition had been repealed. A lot of cops, lawyers, judges and jailers — not to mention coroners — stood to lose their jobs. The middle of a historic depression, with unemployment statistics setting records, was no time to be out of work.
Then along came the First War on Drugs. Goodbye alcohol. Hello marijuana. And so began 70 years and counting of pot busts. The movie Reefer Madness, was shown in theaters, community centers and schools. It fed bizarre allegations to an ignorant and gullible public. The title tells it all. One puff of reefer and dreadful, uncontrolled behavior results.
I remember seeing Reefer Madness at a college film club. The audience reaction was guffaws — just as the organizers had hoped. This was in the glory days of the Cold War. The First War on Drugs was passé by then. The stern warnings and ridiculous simulated case histories of “Reefer Madness” had become a satire on themselves. Not that the pot bust industry has disappeared. Marijuana sales and use are the ideal crimes from a cop’s point of view. The sellers and the users are rarely armed. And they rarely put up any resistance.
The unintended humor of Reefer Madness was not only obvious to college film clubs. It was also clear to composer Dan Studney and lyricist Kevin Murphy. Together they put together a farce entitled Reefer Madness, The Musical. It premiered in Los Angeles in 1998. It came to New York’s Off Broadway in 2001 and was made into a film in 2005.
Meanwhile, the show has been staged by companies all over the country. In 2007, D.C.’s Studio Theatre won a Helen Hayes Award for its Reefer Madness production. And now Arlington’s Dominion Stage has a revival up and running.
Dominion director Matthew Randall’s show is not subtle. But it is punchy. At this point the targets are easy. Enlarged by the rambunctious musical farce treatment they don’t even qualify as satire. The show’s tone is raucous ridicule.
The protagonists, Mary and Jimmy, are small town high school sweethearts. They are good, even goody-goody, kids. Then along comes Jack, a pot dealer. Promising dancing lessons to the klutzy Jimmy, Jack lures him to an unspeakable den of iniquity run by the addled addict Mae and her even more addled associates, Sally and Ralph.
Bad things quickly start happening. Before two hours have passed we see how marijuana use leads to sassing ones parents. From there it is but a few short steps to lying, overeating, theft, sacrilege, reckless driving, French kissing, manslaughter, individual and group, consensual and non-consensual sex of both a hetero and homo nature, cannibalism, zombie-ism, baby-selling, corpse mutilation and undignified giggling.
The action at Dominion Stage is punctuated by songs and dances that are serviceable though not remarkable. Music director John-Michael d’Haviland and choreographer Catherine Oh keep this bumpy show bouncing along. Dozens and dozens of costumes by Jacquin Pierce Allen cover the path of degradation from wholesome suburban teen outfits down to scanty orgy-wear and tattered zombie togs. Jared Davis’ set ranges from tidy middle class back yard to sinister sin-a-rama.
As with the 1936 film, the musical has a narrator. Dominion actor Tom Flatt does a nice job with this ludicrous role. His farcically dire expressions and intonations satirize the scare tactics that traditionally work so well in American society. To add welcome touches of hypocrisy and ridicule, Flatt steps into contrasting small roles ranging from corrupt to debauched to satanic. Flatt also plays the deus ex machina who sets things (well, some things, anyway) to rights, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Joel Piper as Jimmy and Jaclyn Young as Mary are so annoyingly righteous at the beginning of the show that it is gratifying to witness their depths of degradation. Michael Reid as Jack the dealer and Amy Baska, Cassandra Hodziewich and Sam Nystrom as his addled addict accomplices present various shades of villainy: enthusiastic evil, spineless compliance, stupid connivance and energetic brutality, respectively.
Remember Karl Marx’s apothegm about history “occurring first as tragedy and the second time as farce?” Well we can tweak that a little here with the notion of “Reefer Madness” occurring first as outrageous propaganda and the second time as musical ridicule.
Photos by Jarret Baker for Dominion Stage
- Mae: Amy Baska
- The Lecturer: Tom Flatt
- Sally: Cassandra Hodziewich
- Jimmy: Joel Piper
- Ralph: Sam Nystrom
- Jesus: Michael Reid, Jack
- Mary Lane: Jaclyn Young
- The Reefer Ensemble/Zombies: Melissa Bailey, Julia Fu, Pippin Herlinger, Tyler Herman, Sally Kiernan, Gerard Maurer, PJ Mitchell, Maureen Reed, Dana Robinson, Michael Schaaff, Jack Solano, Erica Wisniewski
- Producers: Helen Bard-Sobola, David M. Moretti
- Director: Matthew Randall
- Music Director: John-Michael d’Haviland
- Choreographer: Catherine Oh
- Stage Manager: Colleen Stock
- Assistant Choreographer: Mark Hidalgo
- Assistant Stage Manager: Alika Codispoti
- Technical Director: David M. Moretti
- Set and Painting Design: Jared Davis
- Lighting Design: Jeffrey S. Auerbach
- Special Effects: Jeffrey S. Auerbach, David M. Moretti
- Sound Design: Ben Allen
- Costume Design: Jacquin Pierce Allen
- Properties Design: Christine Spata
- Hair and Make Up Design –
- Set Dressing: Patrick M. Doneghy
- Master Carpenter: Hector Lorenzini
- Set Construction and Painting: Hector Lorenzini, Jim Callery, Kevin Demine, Trish Hamzeh, Angelo Mike, Larissa Norris
- Lighting Crew: David Gonzalez, Jim Vincent
- Sound Crew: Kevin Demine
- Assistant to the Costumer Designer: Bill Hoyt
- Auditions: David Gonzalez, Robert King, Spencer Lepler, Bill Parker
- Campaign and Production Photographer: Jarret Baker
- Marketing Videographer: Angelo Mike
- Marketing Blog Team: Angelo Mike, Larrisa Norris, Spencer Lepler
Disclaimer: Dominion Stage provided one complimentary media ticket to ShowBizRadio for this review. Dominion Stage also purchased advertising on the ShowBizRadio web site, which did not influence this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/4501.
Joe Adcock lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.