Directed by J. Michael Spencer
MIT Musical Theatre Guild
Kresge Little Theater
Sept. 6–8 and 13–15, 8 p.m.
A time for experimentation, college life is rife with pleasures — legal or otherwise. Those proud graduates of DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) have already been introduced to the evils of drugs. Those who haven’t heard the stern warnings and strict admonitions can still be saved from the stroll down sin lane. Now, both can find a refresher course on the most pernicious gateway drug of them all.
Reefer Madness is the Musical Theatre Guild’s Fall 2012 show about the dangers of “mara-ha-wana,” based on the movie of the same name. The show has the fourth-wall-nudging premise that the audience is watching a dramatic reenactment of “true events” at the Benjamin Harris High School, narrated by the principal-like Lecturer.
The story follows the corruption of high school students Jimmy Harper (Victor E. Cary ’14) and Mary Lane (Cheetiri S. Smith ’14) — a couple so innocent, they base their love on Romeo and Juliet without knowing the play ends tragically. Under the guise of “swing dance lessons,” Jimmy is seduced by the vamp Sally Debanis (Madeline McCord) and the reefer dealer Jack Stone (Hubert Hwang ’07) into smoking joints, despite the warnings of Jack’s abused partner Mae Coleman (Helen O’Keefe ’09) and Jesus (Kenneth N. Kamrin ’08). Under the influence, Jimmy’s addiction destroys his life, with disasters snowballing from the exaggerated to the patently absurd.
Don’t mistake this musical for a serious treatment of marijuana. The ever-present chorus of “reefer madness, reefer madness” adds campy emphasis to the sins the reefer causes. Just in case you missed the moral lessons, the Placard Girl/Boy (Alecia M. Maragh ’15 and Luis Loya ’06) reminds you that “reefer gives you a potty mouth,” amongst other things.
The musical features plenty of snappy one-liners and catchy tunes, yet the acting does not always do the script justice. Smith plays a sweet, but ultimately bland Mary Lane, and neither Smith nor Cary have stellar voices. MTG veterans Hwang and O’Keefe add more life into the relationship between Jack and Mae, especially when Mae finally resists Jack’s offer of “the stuff” she is addicted to. In a touch of irony, the moralizing Lecturer doubles as Satan, with a set of horns and glowing red eyes. Matt “Half-time” Peairs G is also to be commended for an enthusiastic background performance. As the frat boy Ralph Wiley, Daniel J. Gonzalez ’14 puts on a good show of hallucinating.
In the end, the musical is a colossal parody of scare-em-straight approach to drug prevention. DARE, by implying that marijuana use is as dangerous as heroin, actually makes students more likely to ignore warnings and use drugs in the future.
MTG’s version is a bit rough around the edges, but still a good way to spend a weekend night.