Wednesday, October 20, 2010

High times with the Gallery Players

Rebecca Dealy stars as Mary Lane
in the Gallery Player's production
of "Reefer Madness."
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

By Alex Rush

Pot is so omnipresent, that even a Park-Slope based community theater troupe is reviving a marijuana-themed play.

This month, the Gallery Players presents the musical, “Reefer Madness,” a hilarious spoof on the anti-Mary Jane propaganda film of the same name. The play’s producer, Heather Curran, said that the live, stoner-friendly satire, which had a short Off-Broadway run nine years ago, is more timely than ever.

Think of it as “Weeds” for all of you without cable.

“With the growing marijuana legalization movement, now is the perfect time to revive ‘Reefer Madness,’ ” Curran said (see a video with the cast talking about the play here).

Indeed, a play that makes fun of outrageous marijuana myths — like the ones that say the drug turns clean-cut kids into sex-crazed, murderous maniacs — is more relevant now that weed carries less of a stigma. 

“Marijuana has become much more popular and accepted, especially in the last 10 to 15 years,” said Naomi Braine, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College who studies drug policy. “One of the things that de-stigmatizes drugs that are relatively safe is widespread use.”

Weed is the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. About 44 percent of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana, up from 25 percent in the mid-1990s, according to a 2009 Gallup poll. New York State is considering legislation, supported by state Sen. Eric Adams (D–Fort Greene), to legalize marijuana for medicinal uses, which is allowed in 14 states and the District of Columbia. California may go a step further this November, when voters will decide on an initiative that would allow for recreational usage of marijuana.

The “Reefer Madness” musical uses most of the plot and dialogue from the original movie, but incorporates it into a play within a play, wherein the bow tie-clad Lecturer tries to scare clean-cut students away from the dreaded “demon weed” by presenting a “re-enactment of true events,” which he claims were caused by pot-smokers. 

Those “true events” include attacks by cannibalistic zombies and orgies with a Goat-Man. And tongue-and-cheek song lyrics say that weed is “turning all our children into hooligans and whores” and “savagely deflowering the good ol’ U.S.A.” 

“The humor in the play is that marijuana is pointed to as the root of all evil,” said director Dev Bondarin.

Marijuana as public enemy number one is especially laughable given the fact that the drug has been portrayed in movies, TV and music as harmless fun in recent years. For instance, Brooklyn hip-hop duo Smif N’ Wessun are known for lyrics about “puffin’ la,” and the Brooklyn-set HBO series “Bored to Death,” features Ted Danson, Jason Schwartzman and Zach Galifianakis sparking up before moonlighting as private detectives.

“There’s been a big change in the way marijuana smoking is shown on TV,” said Jay Goldsteain, the executive director of the New York Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “Ten years ago, it seemed as if television shows were committed to showing these cartoonish consequences of marijuana, but we don’t really see that anymore.”

TV characters’ reefer-induced fun is a far cry from what many adults preached about weed decades ago.
“I actually heard warnings growing up that weed would rot my brain,” said Horton, who came of age in the cannabis-crazed 1970s. “So ‘Reefer Madness’ definitely resonates.”

“Reefer Madness” at the The Gallery Players [199 14th St. between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Park Slope, (718) 595-0547], Oct. 23–Nov. 14. Tickets $18 for adults, $14 for seniors and children under 12. For info, visit


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