Saturday, December 12, 2015

Delightful REEFER MADNESS at Blank Canvas induces giggles and munchies

Even though the movement may have been slowed down by the recent Ohio election, the march toward legalization of marijuana seems on its way in this country. 

Leave it to Patrick Ciamacco, the curmudgeon of glee, to find REEFER MADNESS, a script that mocks the campaign against the product that, if we believed the script, makes you have to pee, become pudgy, kills old men, hypnotizes white women, makes you pathological, gives you a potty mouth, and creates liars!

Yep, that’s what REEFER MADNESS, the musical satire stage play, based on the cult classic movie of the same name, tells us.  Would the theatre or the news media lie? 

With book and lyrics by Kevin Murphy, and book and music by Dan Studney, REEFER MADNESS takes us back to 1938.  The Lecturer, a stern authority figure, informs that a new drug menace “marihuana” (whispered with a large voice) threatens the American way of life.  (Hmm, wonder why the Blank Canvas audience got the giggles on that line?)  Oh, yeah, two of the other things that using “grass” does, according to the script, is give you the giggles and creates the munchies!  (The two young twenty-somethings sitting next to me just kept laughing during the entire goings on, ran for the exit at intermission and came back smelling of a lingering sweetness, then gorged on popcorn.  Hmmm!)

The plot centers on the nerdy, straight-laced goody-two shoes, Jimmy, who falls in with a bad crowd and becomes prey to marijuana, leading to a downward spiral into new behaviors which include drugs and sex. (Sorry, no rock and roll). 

The entire goings on are done with farcical hysteria.  The cast, as is a requirement for developing farce, plays their roles straight, making the whole thing delightful as we laugh at the outrageous lines and circumstances which include a visit from Jesus, cross-dressing males, simulated abuse, clothed nudism, sexless sex, bad driving, selling of babies and murder, rather than at the actors overdone characterizations!

The musical started in Los Angeles in 1998 and moved off-Broadway in 2001 for a short run.  The film adaptation was made in 2005.

The Blank Canvas production, with one exception, is delightful.  Let’s get the “bad” out of the way before going on to extol the many virtues of the director and cast.

Blank Canvas is a small theatre, no bigger than a large living room.  Why the powers that be continue to mic the bands for their musicals is a mystery.  In REEFER MADNESS, not only are all the lyrics to the songs drowned out by musical director Lawrence Wallace’s overly enthusiastic and electrified band, but, since the music underscores most of the spoken lines, it was impossible for either the lyrics or the dialogue to be heard.  This is not a rock-concert, it is play that has dialogue and lyrics for a reason.  Boo!

Yeah stuff?   Derrick Winger schooled and scolded well as The Lecturer.  Cory Zukoski was geek-right as Jimmy, the good-boy turned bad.  Cute Neely Gevaart was delightfully on target as Mary, Jimmy’s girl friend.  Kate Leigh Michalski, she of big eyes and over-done gestures, was terrific as Mae, the kindhearted abused partner of Jack, the hoodlum.  Michael Crowley was evil incarnate as bad guy Jack. 

Trey Gilpin morphed into a perfect perv as Ralph, the drug pushing “college” guy, while Aaron Patterson was hilarious as Jesus.  (Christians beware, this is not a Passion play and is intended to offend devout viewers.)  Domenic Farinelli and Zac Hudak flounce around with delight as fey-females.  

Katie Zarecki’s choreography was fun and frenetic.  Especially amusing were  “Reefer Madness,” the show’s opening number, “Down at the Ol’ Five and Dime,” and “The Orgy.”

The play ends with a  “message” for the audience that summarizes the dangers of “bammy,” “funk,” “mary jane,” “funny stuff,” “vipe”:

“When danger's near
Exploit their fear -
The end will justify the means!”

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  In spite of over-zealous musical sounds, REEFER MADNESS is a farcical delight that is a tongue-in-cheek examination of the “dangers” of marijuana.  The production elements are aptly overdone, resulting in a fun experience for an open minded audience or one that is “toked” out.

Blank Canvas’s REEFER MADNESS runs though December 19, 2015 in its west side theatre, 1305 West 78 th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland. Once you arrive at the site, go around the first building to find the entrance and then follow the signs to the second floor acting space.  For tickets and directions go to