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Reefer Madness

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Chapel Off Chapel
25 November – 4 December 2016

 

Anti-drug propaganda film turned musical satire, Reefer Madness parodies the anti-marijuana attitudes of the 1930s. Wholesome couple Jimmy Harper and Mary Lane fall into the evil clutches of the devil’s lettuce in this cautionary tale, promising that “reefer will turn your children into hooligans and whores.” From selling babies to domestic abuse and hit-and-run murders, nothing is off-limits in this irreverent satire.

Charmingly kitsch, RL Productions steer the production far from realism with hand-drawn props, comically exaggerated simulated sex scenes and caricaturised depictions of violence. From a mannequin’s head thrown on stage following an emphatic decapitation to reams of red ribbons indicating blood streams, Stephen Wheat’s melodramatic directorial choices soften the gore and boundary-pushing humour.

Ben Adams is an unending fount of energy whose strong vocals and perfectly awkward performance as love-struck Jimmy Harper is a show highlight. Co-star Grace O’Donnell-Clancy as Mary Lane is an endearingly peppy, pint-sized powerhouse.

Ed Deganos’ campy Jesus is another incontestable highlight. Wheeled around on a wooden cross amidst choruses of ‘listen to Jesus, Jimmy,’ Deganos’ performance under Wheat’s direction captures the comical irreverence of this cult classic.

Rosa McCarty’s comic timing as reefer den hostess Mae alongside ruthless proprietor Jack Stone (Jared Bryan) draws consistent laughs. McCarty also impresses with strong vocals.

Some brief microphone issues, a near costume mishap in the five and dime Latin-esque dance interlude, and some poorly hidden wig lines are the only apparent flaws. Fortunately these flaws enhance the B-grade Rocky Horror Picture Show-esque cult classic spirit that Wheat manages to capture in RL Productions’ Melbourne premiere of Reefer Madness.