Houston Press Podcast: Reefer Madness

Start the school year off with everything your parents warned you about -- sex, drugs and … show tunes? Okay, so maybe a musical isn’t what comes to mind for an end-of-the-summer celebration, but Reefer Madness doesn’t exactly posses the wholesome family fun of Guys and Dolls and South Pacific. The musical was based on the 1936 film of the same name meant to scare the beejezus out of anyone even thinking about trying the evil marijuana. With one puff, the protagonist it transformed into a sex-hungry, abusive, spastic, cackling drug feign who will stop at nothing to get his next fix. The musical, created more than 30 years after the film was released, takes this idea and runs all the way to a crack house with it. The cast of Reefer Madness owns up to the campiness needed to portray the larger-than-life characters who satirize the film’s attempt to over-dramatize the effects of marijuana.

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"This play totally makes fun of propaganda,” says Sofia Mendez. “It takes it, balls it up and throws it back into your face.” Mendez plays leading lady Mary Lane who fights to win back her boyfriend Jimmy Harper who has a new love: Mary Jane (wink, wink). Jimmy’s battle is played out to songs like “Listen to Jesus, Jimmy” a 70s-inspired, gospel dance number starring an Afro-clad black Jesus and other numbers such as “Down at the Ol’ Five and Dime” add a 40s swing for a sexy explanation of how a malt shop could be a front for a drug operation. The musical has become a cult-classic for its Rocky Horror-esque appeal (i.e. risqué content and irreverent attitude). Of course, this is also why the show hasn’t been embraced by the more conservative suburban crowd.

This is nothing new for director John “Cash” Carpenter who sent a few shockwaves through the neighborhoods surrounding North Harris Community College last year with his production of Urinetown. He says his announcement to close the season this year with Reefer Madness was met with plenty a raised eyebrow. “I had to go through every power that be to get it approved,” Cash says. “And then I’ve had to write all kinds of things like 'we’re not going to smoke reefer on stage.’” He adds there was also a voice of concern from outside the college. “People are saying this is trash theater, I shouldn’t be doing it, it’s for kids, it’s not true art, it’s potty humor,” he says.

Actress Tara Bostwick says her mother even had objections. “[She said] ‘I can’t take my church friends to see it,’” Of course, these fears and concerns about the show’s content are what the musical addresses and Carpenter and his cast believe are even more of a reason to continue on. Many of the performers say their friends are looking forward to performance and even offered to provide them with plenty of realistic props (read: weed). 8 p.m. North Harris Community College Performing Arts Theatre, 2700 W. W. Thorne Drive. Tuesday, August 7 through Sunday, August 12. For tickets and information, call 281-765-7963 or visit www.northharriscollege.com. $15. - Dusti Rhodes

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