While I do not use drugs (unless you count sarcasm as an amphetamine), when it comes to other people's drug use I have a hands-off policy. This may be born of my bleeding-heart politics, or perhaps I'd enjoy life more if everybody would just get stoned and leave me alone. But I will say this: People who are high are never quite as entertaining as they think they are.
Which maybe describes the Point Park University production of Reefer Madness, a musical by Dan Studney and Kevin Murphy.
In 1936, a church group financed an idiotically sincere "educational" film about the perils of marijuana that, in a few years, was recut and released as an exploitation film ... which became a midnight movie that's delighted potheads since. In 1998 the Studney and Murphy musical played first in Los Angeles and then, briefly, off-Broadway.
And, really, that's a hell of a lot of camp: The original film, the recut version, the cult sensibility and the musical. At some point it becomes too much ... or, rather, not enough to fuel an entire show. We open with a stern lecturer warning us about marijuana, illustrating his point with the story of Jimmy and Mary, two small-town teen-agers who fall into cannabis hell. The show's humor comes from satirizing the film's corny righteousness.
Thanks to apple-pie-on-steroids performances by Justin Peebles and Mariana Dunn, as Jimmy and Mary, it's a very funny joke. Unfortunately, it's also the show's only one. Studney and Murphy aim for a Little Shop of Horrors feel. But Little Shop's story and book provide a rock-solid foundation for its hijinks; Reefer Madness, from its inception, is flimsy and vapid. A lampoon of a lampoon of lightweight material doesn't really have much shelf life.
Still, there's too much talent on stage for the evening to be without entertainment. Playing the drug dealer and his moll, Jayson Portman and Ashley Schmidt are a hoot parodying '30s film acting. Ali Reed, as bad girl Sally, is every ditzy musical chorine, and Michael Karas is a great deal of fun characterizing a wide array of father figures.
Reefer Madness continues through Sun., April 22. Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. 412-621-4445 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com
- Harsh toke: Point Park's musical Reefer Madness.