Beware the dangers of reefer, kids. Getting high will only land you in a green garden of evil, ridden with sexual promiscuity, felony charges and (gasp!) atheism.
Based on a real public service announcement from the late 1930s, this weekend’s Basement Arts musical “Reefer Madness” has acquired a cult following since its off-Broadway debut in 2000.
Dripping with cheesy propaganda, the show’s musical numbers feature everyone from Jesus Christ to Uncle Sam, all whom send the same message to the troubled youth of America: If you smoke reefer, you will end up selling your babies for drug money.
The show follows the tragic story of two all-American kids, Mary Lane and Jimmy Harper, who get corrupted by this “leafy green assassin of youth.” One day, Jimmy is reading Shakespeare and dancing at the five and dime, the next he is driving stoned and crashing into old people with a stolen car. It’s not long before Jimmy leaves his moral relationship with Mary Lane and opts for the fast-pace love of Mary Jane.
A highlight of the show is Jimmy’s first puff of the forbidden stuff. He has accidentally stumbled into a typical drug house (complete with a crying baby and a passed-out whore) when a smooth-talking reefer dealer convinces him to take a drag. As the lights swirl, the stage is instantly transformed into a jungle of naked marijuana smokers, and the kite-high Jimmy is stripped down to only a weed-decorated thong. Everyone knows that’s how the first time always goes.
Shortly before intermission, Jesus Christ and his band out angels descend from the heavens to give a gospel rendition of why Jimmy should fill his lungs with God instead of weed. (“Thou shall not smoke marijuana” is apparently commandment No. 11.) But Jimmy talks smack right to Jesus’s holy face, saying he has new god now – in the shape of a thickly rolled joint.
In the way only a tacky musical can, each time Jimmy falls deeper into the clutches of the drug culture, an offstage chorus sings the words “reefer madness” in a foreboding, ominous tune. As he continues his downward spiral, cast members walk across stage with signs reading “reefer will make you a pathological liar” and “reefer will get you raped.”
The show does not opt for subtly, to say the least.
After Jimmy falls off the deep end, the show takes a turn for the weird. Reminiscent of Christopher Durang’s absurdist comedy, “Reefer Madness” holds nothing back – the corrupted kids are killing each other with garden hoes, eating human flesh and being hauled off to the electric chair by the end of the play.
Didn’t you know? That’s what you get when you smoke the reefer.
The musical numbers are catchy (the show won the Drama Desk for best lyrics in 2002) and features a chorus of Music School students who can sing and dance with the best of them. This offbeat spoof on the “green scare” is pure musical theatre fun – so put out that noxious reefer stick and head up to North Campus for some not-so-wholesome entertainment.
Tonight at 7 and 11 p.m., Saturday at 7 p.m.
At the Walgreen Drama Center