Hide your kids, hide your pot
“Commie reefer queens want your kids.”
Statements like this, painted on the set and often voiced by actors, were the driving satire behind Scotch’n’Soda’s first production of the school year, Reefer Madness, which played last Thursday through Saturday in McConomy Auditorium.
The musical, based loosely on the 1936 propaganda exploitation film Tell Your Children, is terribly silly. The script is awful. It’s no Les Misérables — but it’s not supposed to be. In essence, Reefer is a political commentary on the ridiculousness of ’30s drug policy and radical conservatives who believed that marijuana was a more debilitating and addictive drug than heroin. Indeed, Reefer could have focused on meth rather than on marijuana; it would make much more sense, but wouldn’t be nearly as funny.
It makes one wonder what the makers of the 1936 movie were using when they were filming — considering the time period, probably cocaine.
Reefer’s first-time director, sophomore electrical and computer engineering and creative writing double major Bradley Plaxen, chose a great production that naturally caters to a college crowd. It was definitely sloppy at some points; the stage blackouts seemed nearly random, and the final scene’s choreography had the actors practically tripping over each other. But the actors’ tangible enthusiasm and the bombastic musical numbers more than made up for any mishaps.
The audience would have lost interest without the enthralling opening number. The scene’s choreography, the brainchild of sophomore design major Sam Ahmed, was the best in the entire show: The ensemble’s fantastic, “marijuana-induced” dancing engaged audience members early on, daring them to hope for more.
And more they did receive, although not right away. Protagonist Jimmy Harper (first-year Dietrich student Zach Stuckelman) had a frog in his throat until he smoked his first joint, after which he sang 10 times better. Interestingly enough, the opposite was true for his girlfriend, Mary Lane (first-year Dietrich student Emma Harger), who played her goody-two-shoes role well, but seemed stuck in that persona, even when she had to strip to her garters onstage and dominate unsuspecting marijuana dealer Ralph Wiley (sophomore vocal performance major Taylor Rawley).
While all the actors in Reefer Madness had substantial talent, there are a few who shined above the rest. Senior economics and statistics and decision science double major Will Weiner had sobering comments and straight-arrow acting that kept the show grounded. Rawley expertly played his college reefer junkie role, dominating the stage with his high-pitched giggling and lascivious nature.
Possibly the most outstanding presence was sophomore vocal performance major Joanna Latini as the conflicted Mae Coleman, who owns the reefer den run by her husband, Jack Perry (junior math major Billy Veer). Unable to choose between her addiction and her morals, she is the only character with whom the audience was able to empathize, and she navigates her frequent transitions from guilty addict to comic reinforcement seamlessly. Veer is a great actor, but dancing was his forte, especially his duo with Placard Girl (first-year computer science major Gail Wilson, also the production’s dance captain). Other choreography highlights included “Murder!”, the reprise of “Down at the Ol’ Five and Dime,” and “Listen to Jesus, Jimmy.”
It’s hard to imagine Reefer Madness succeeding anywhere but on a college campus, and it fit right in at Carnegie Mellon. While probably not the best production Scotch’n’Soda has put together, it was ludicrously entertaining and should have been a required Halloween festivity for every student.