Up in smoke: Powder and Wig’s Reefer Madness
Kyle Rogacion '15 (center) plays Jimmy Harper, a young man who spirals into marijuana addiction.
On Friday, Sept. 16, Powder and Wig unveiled its one-week musical production of Reefer Madness, a humorous and searing adaptation of the 1936 film of the same name. The musical, like its filmic predecessor, is based on 1930s anti-drug propaganda meant to induce public fear; however, Powder & Wig’s final product is a comedy of the absurd.
The production was a part of the club’s yearly tradition of putting together a show—from casting and costumes to lighting and sound staging—in a single week. Considering the cast and crew’s time constraints, this year’s show was another impressive display of students’ passion and creativity under pressure.
Directed by Trip Venturella ’12, Reefer Madness is the moralizing and humorous tale of Jimmy Harper (Kyle Rogacion ’15), a wide-eyed suburban teenager who falls into a nasty drug habit and a lifestyle of debauchery as he searches for a way to impress his innocent sweetheart, Mary Lane (Emilie Jensen ’15).
Framed as a story within a story, the musical opens with a garrulous and over-moralizing lecturer (Francesco Tisch ’12) who addresses the audience as if they are students attending a high school musical production on the perils of marijuana use.
Blurring the boundaries of the musical within the musical, the lecturer seamlessly joins the cast, popping up here and there as bizarre characters, most notably as the shirtless whips-and-chains leader of drugged-up zombie teenagers. Much of the musical’s humor derived itself from the fact that the lecturer returns to comment on the morality of scenes as they unfolded.
The lecturer introduces Jimmy as the all-American teen who has everything going for himself, particularly the fawning admiration of the beautiful and innocent Mary Lane. The young couple sits at a park bench discussing a class assignment, Romeo and Juliet, and infer that the love experienced by the Shakespearean couple is bound to have a happy ending. Hopelessly in love and aloof to reality, the two are a squeaky-clean slice of Americana—that is, until reefer madness ensnares the plotline.
Desperate to impress Mary when she begins dancing at a local hangout, Jimmy is approached by the shady and devilish character Jack (Jordan Lorenz ’15), who offers to sell Jimmy some “stuff” that can help him relax and dance better. Unsure of what to do, Jimmy is tricked into having his first joint and then spirals into addiction with a dumbfounded cast of characters who inhabit Jack’s reefer den: the seductive and loudmouthed Sally (Margret Sargent ’14), the crazed stoner college dropout, Ralph (Jack Harris ’12), and Jack’s abused and conflicted lover, Mae (Lauren Fiorelli ’12J).
As Jimmy becomes “addicted” to marijuana, his morality frays as he descends into madness—hallucinating and tweaking out, stealing from church donation boxes, and even killing an old man by accident.
In large and small ways, the musical was very much aware of itself and the over-moralizing tone of propaganda at the time. While this may sound like a dark and panicky look at drugs, the musical is a comedy at its very core. One of the best comic reliefs was Kendall Hatch ’13, who would parade across the stage at inopportune times while holding up signs—the most notable of which read, “REEFER makes you SELL YOUR BABIES…for DRUG MONEY.”
Perhaps one of the production’s greatest social commentaries was when Jesus Christ (Jack Daniel Gobillot ’14) took the stage with a cast of angels, urging Jimmy to get high off God as he stripped down to a diaper-like loincloth. The scene, very much like the play as a whole, was a blend of the comic and the controversial, causing people to laugh and cringe, as many were unsure of the musical’s political correctness.
Another questionable moment came at the production’s end when Jesus joins with George Washington (Lorenz), Lady Liberty (Sargent), and Uncle Sam (Harris) to put on a nauseating display of American patriotism. Jimmy and Mary are reunited after Mary’s accidental death, and church and state come together in a schizophrenic display of red, white and blue that commanded the laughter of viewers.
Religiosity and patriotism aside, a major critique of the first show was the poor sound quality: the hiss of microphones combined with the loud band in the background often overpowered the voices of those on stage. However, considering the production was thrown together in a week, several cast members, notably Lauren Fiorelli and Emilie Jensen, defied the musical’s technical difficulties.
Overall, Power and Wig put on a fine production. A melodramatic tale of love, death and the moral perils of marijuana use, Reefer Madness brought about laughter and applause from its audience—a testament to students’ hard work in creating something entertaining and imaginative within the obscene time constraints set to challenge themselves.