High times at Venice Theatre's Stage II with Reefer Madness.
By Kay Kipling
Many of us probably have fond memories of the first time we watched the cult film Reefer Madness—probably on a college campus somewhere, as we giggled our way through the overacting, bad makeup and hysteria of this 1930s propaganda film against the evil weed. So there’s quite a natural audience out there for Reefer Madness: A Musical, making its area premiere at Venice Theatre’s Stage II.
Does it satisfy our nostalgia or at least meet our entertainment needs? With mixed results, but overall, yes.
In case you’ve somehow never seen or heard of Reefer Madness, here’s the setup: Good kids Jimmy Harper (Scott Vitale) and Mary Lane (Caitlin Longstreet) are pure and in love, until Jimmy decides to take dance lessons offered by the evil Jack (Steven O’Dea). Turns out those dance lessons are really just an excuse to get Jimmy to the Reefer Den, where with the help of slutty Sally (Sara Trembly) and motherly but hooked-on-marijuana Mae (Cara Herman), he takes a puff and instantly gets involved in an orgy.
Can’t be long before Jimmy’s robbing the church poor box and—excuse the expression—humping anything that moves. Can’t be long, either, before innocent Mary ends up at the Den herself, looking for her Jimmy. And it all goes downhill from there…
Reefer Madness must have been fun for director Kelly Wynn Woodland and her cast (a large one for the confines of Stage II) to stage, and much of that fun comes across to the audience as well. As the Lecturer who tells the story and delivers dire warnings, Jason Kimble sets the right tongue-in-cheek tone, and the performances of Vitale, Longstreet, Herman and O’Dea (who doubles as Jesus in scenes trying to save Jimmy from his fate) are especially strong. Some of the music is infectious, if not exactly addictive (The Stuff, Mary Jane/Mary Lane and The Brownie Song), and Kelly Burnette’s choreography is lively and appropriate if perhaps a bit cramped on the small stage.
There are lots of little bits here to enjoy (especially ones involving cars), but one problem is that so many of the lyrics cannot be distinguished, at least not if you’re in the back row near the musicians. Try to get there early and get a seat closer to the stage if you can—and if you’re not afraid of inhaling secondhand smoke.
Reefer Madness: A Musical runs through Feb. 1; call 488-1115 or go to venicestage.com.