Reefer Madness turns a smug and campy premise into an incisive dark comedy that just may be the year's brightest night of theater in Orange County. At tiny STAGEStheatre a large ensemble cast delivers a logistically difficult production with hardly a stumble or stutter, effectively turning potential liabilities into strengths along the way.
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Absolutely nothing suggests that this should be so. Anyone familiar with Reefer Madness, the 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda film, knows that our modern-day laughs are supposed to come at the expense of their antiquated hysteria. Of course, this requires us to overlook the fact that to this day our law makes criminals out of people who smoke pot, even for medicinal purposes.
The genius of Reefer Madness, written by Dan Studney and Kevin Murphy, is that it piggybacks over-the-top lecturing with under-the-radar social satire. By the end of a harrowing morality tale that traces the descent of little Jimmy Harper after he takes a toke off a joint in a moment of weakness, the audience listens in pleasure to a song that collectively indicts us all for falling down in our lapses in judgment.
Although the script and songs are the foundation of Reefer Madness, they also present seductive dangers to the actors, who always seem one egotistical move away from burying the play's message in their personal mugging. Director K.C. Mercer never lets that happen, and it turns out this discipline propels the cast to an even greater performance.
REEFER MADNESS AT STAGESTHEATRE, 400 E. COMMONWEALTH AVE., STE. 4, FULLERTON, (714) 525-4484; WWW.STAGESOC.ORG. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 6 P.M.; ALSO OCT. 31, 8 P.M. THROUGH OCT. 31. $18.