Monday, October 25, 2010

Theater Review: Embrace this 'Madness'

 Photo by Bella Muccari.
By  Meredith Deliso

The Gallery Players have gone to pot — but you’re the one who’ll get high.

The Park Slope theater troupe brings “Reefer Madness,” a musical based on the 1938 propaganda film of the same name, to the stage this month, and this smoke-filled room is a laugh-a-minute affair.

The exploitation film was originally a big blunt of Acapulco gold for Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney, who turned “Reefer Madness” into a musical in 1998, embracing the film’s over-the-top seriousness and ridiculous scare tactics for an uproarious performance.

In the Gallery Players’ silly, kinky production, the sparse set comes alive quickly after The Lecturer takes to the stage to warn us about “true events” that transpired as a result of the demon weed. And it starts off with a bong, er, bang, thanks the raucous opening number, “Reefer Madness,” featuring zombified teens — the victims of marijuana.

The Lecturer (Greg Horton, whose mustache should also get its own credit) goes on to tell the “true” story of the wide-eyed Jimmy Harper, a 16-year-old who, with one puff of the ganga, goes from a good egg to a bad apple, much to the dismay and confusion of his girlfriend, Mary Lane. He becomes a regular at the reefer den of Jack Stone, Mae Coleman, Sally Debains, and Ralph Wiley, who prey on the local teens to support their own bad habit.

As Jimmy gets deeper and deeper into their world, becoming a sex-crazed creep who ecstatically steals from his mom and the church’s collection, we learn some valuable lessons, such as “reefer makes you sell your babies for drug money,” and “reefer kills poor old men.” Not even Jesus (played with great charisma by Jose Restrepo) can save him.

It’s a quick-moving performance, with great sight gags, that goes off without a hitch. The comically choreographed numbers use the space well, especially with the full ensemble (“The Orgy” is a stand out), and there’s as many costume changes as a Lady Gaga concert, as the fresh-faced ensemble easily transforms into flesh-rotting zombies, high heel, corset-sporting cherubs (men included), and wholesome, milkshake slurpin’ kids.

Jason Edward Cook makes Jimmy’s own embellished transformation believable, with little more than an untucked shirt and tussled hair. The innocent Mary Lane is appropriately doe-eyed — so the fun really starts when she gets her turn in the inhibition-destroying drug den.

Michele Scully is sultry as Sally, and, in a show without many stand-out vocal moments, Jaygee Macapugay steals the stage as the maternal Mae during “The Stuff” and its reprise. Zak Risinger also earns his laughs as the strung-out Ralph thanks to his wiry physical comedy.

For all the high times, the musical isn’t without some downers. The cast is unmic-ed, so some singers, especially the soft-voiced Cook, are difficult to hear. And in such a silly show, the violence is difficult to react to. A rape joke fell completely flat, and the abuse between Jack and Mae, played straight, wasn’t really funny until an outlandish prop was brought in. In a production as sardonic as this one, where pot turns teens into zombies, it’s at its best when it keeps it over the top and embraces the madness.

“Reefer Madness” at the Gallery Players [199 14th St. between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Park Slope, (718) 595-0547], now through Nov. 14. Tickets $18, $14 for children and seniors. For info, visit


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