Queen City Theatre Company is currently staging what I’m told is a cult classic in musical theatre: Reefer Madness. I’d never seen the show, nor the film upon which it’s based, but I’m familiar with the basic concept… Sarcastic mockery of a decades-old public service announcement meant to scare kids away from marijuana.
This show is STUPID. Utterly mindless, it has forgettable characters and a ludicrous storyline. It’s also absolutely hysterical.
A lecturer of some sort (a school principal, perhaps?) is our host for the evening, telling the tale of a hapless couple of teenagers whose lives (along with those of everyone around them) are irrevocably ruined by smoking marijuana. Throughout the story, both the lecturer and a woman carrying placard signs (as if in a boxing match) narrate what’s happening onstage and drive home the dire warnings of the PSA. We learn that marijuana will make you stupid, carefree, promiscuous, and even murderous if you imbibe. They mean for us to quiver in our seats at the horrors unfolding in front of us.
Of course, it’s all so implausible and absurd that the audience laughs out loud at the over-the-top warnings of the evil weed. Our lecturer, played brilliantly by Tom Ollis, is so earnest and sincere in his delivery of absolute bullshit that you can’t help but grin at his scowls and threats. (The fact that I vividly remembered his terrific, though creepy, performance from the Citizens of the Universe production of Reservoir Dogs probably made it even more entertaining for me.)
Jonathan Van Caudill, probably best known to Charlotte audiences from QCTC’s Altar Boyz last year (though I enjoyed him in UNCC’s Urinetown as well) starts off as a charming goodie-two-shoes boy in 1936, and after a few puffs of a joint becomes nearly unrecognizable as a drug-addicted sex fiend. Bettina Martina is Mary Lane, the object of his affection — at least until Mary JANE comes in and ruins everything. The couple are sweet and adorable, which makes their quick fall from grace all the more entertaining.
The evil ringleader of the group of marijuana fiends is Jack Stone, played by Steven Martin. This is another case of an actor I remember fondly from other performances — specifically as the sweet young man in The Fully Monty and a variety of characters in the Forbidden Broadway-style A Broadway Christmas Carol — taking on a role so unlike everything else I’ve seen him in that he’s startling at every turn. Stone is completely without merit or redemption, the ultimate sinister bad guy, and he does it with just the right hint of cheesy over-the-top villainy.
And of course, one simply can’t write a review of this show without mentioning Jesus. Played in this cast by QCTC Managing Director (and producer of this show) Kristian Wedolowski, Jesus comes back to Earth to give the lead a piece of His mind. In keeping with the feel of the show, Wedolowski isn’t afraid to bring a bit of silliness to Jesus, and his Uruguayan accent only adds to the campiness of the role.
The other actors were fine — not a bad performance among the lot. The ensemble tends to rush the stage together and exit quickly, with no real opportunity to distinguish between them… but that’s okay. They’re not supposed to be true characters, more just living props through which we can better visualize the madness surrounding our leads.
Ultimately, this show is silly, zany, and in-your-face in some bizarre (and some might say sacrilegious) ways. There’s a lot of near nudity among the cast — something many QCTC shows have brought to the stage, so it’s fortunately no longer quite so scandalous — and the language and rampant sexuality of the show might be a problem for some. On the other hand, if you’re willing to have a ton of laughs, see some crazy antics and outright lunacy onstage, this is definitely a show you’ll want to catch.
Reefer Madness plays through October 23rd at Duke Energy Theater in Spirit Square. Click here to buy tickets.