Unintended consequences make for laughs in ‘Reefer Madness’

Queen City Theatre Company stages musical production through Oct. 23

Photo credit: Queen City Theatre Company

Sometimes, the best of intentions can backfire. And, even the best-layed-out plans don’t go, well, according to plan. Fortunately, such is the case with “Reefer Madness,” originally crafted out of edits from a church film project in 1938. The church sincerely intended to educate parents on the horrific dangers of marijuana use. But, educational film it was not destined to be. Since then, “Reefer Madness” has become a popular musical and a favorite comedy among its cult following, many of whom are indeed marijuana smokers.

In Queen City Theatre Company’s (QCTC) production, the story is set in a 1936 high school auditorium where the audience is instructed on the hideous dangers of marijuana — rape, murder, addiction, psychosis and the general destruction of the user’s life.

Musical pieces are arranged well with the main plot points, keeping the story moving forward and never leaving a dull moment. The music, singing, lyrics and choreography are all wonderfully entertaining.

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The characters are quite brilliantly conceived and performed. Jimmy Harper (Jonathan Van Caudill) is a young teenager straight out of a TV show from the early part of our century (gee, mister, what are the birds and the bees?), so naive and innocent he doesn’t even know the tragic conclusion to “Romeo and Juliet.” The audience follows Jimmy and his girlfriend Mary Lane (Bettina Martin) from their perfect, all-American lives to the chaos and havoc that is wreaked by cannabis smoking.

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Jimmy is tricked into going with pusher Jack Stone (Steven Martin) to his apartment, where Jimmy is pressured into taking his first hit of marijuana. From there, Jimmy meets insidious influences, including Ralph and Sally, just two of Jack’s victims who have become hopelessly addicted to marijuana. Additionally, QCTC managing director Kristian Wedolowski appears as a hilarious Jesus in the musical.

It is perfectly ripe for this production that a Charlotte parent reacted with disgust not just to the drug-related content of the play itself, but to the LGBT-affirmative mission of QCTC, or as the parent described it, “the gay agenda.” This attitude is part of what “Reefer Madness” mocks. The rabid, delusional overreaction to such a harmless or even positive thing is what makes the musical so hilarious. Just as one of the QCTC directors explains regarding the parent, “Reefer Madness” is about not believing everything you’ve been told whether it’s about some innocuous weed or a movement that seeks to spread acceptance and love.

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Posted by Tyler DeVere

Tyler DeVere is a former editorial intern for QNotes.