Monday, January 21st, 2019

Reefer Madness will light up Russell Hall’s stage

USM Theatre Department

Posted on March 07, 2016 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

USM Theatre Department
USM Theatre Department

By Dora Thompson

The explosion of a musical Reefer Madness will light up Russell Hall’s stage this spring from March 11th through the 20th.  As USM’s main stage spring production, the play is a satirical piece, mocking the 1936 movie of the same name, a black and white cautionary tale about the growing threat of marijuana for teens. It depicted cannabis smokers as murders and criminals. In the 1970s it was remastered into a musical version is raunchy, ridiculous and will probably leave you with a bit of a contact-high.

Reefer Madness is directed by guest director Cary Libkin, who recently left Penn State after 25 years as their head of musical theater. Libkin and his wife wanted to try something new, and chose to move to Maine. Libkin said the best part of working with USM is,

“Everyone’s willing to work together to create something. It’s a great opportunity to work with these kids.”

The original Reefer Madness was an over-the-top warning that was sponsored by a church group and shown in theaters across the South as a scare tactic for concerned parents. The newer rendition, by Dan Studney and Kevin Murphy, is anything but conservative, openly over exaggerating the early film’s claims in order to show their absurdity. Junior theater major Eric Berry-Sandlin stars as Jimmy Harper, an all-American boy whose heart belongs to sports, God and his sweetheart Mary Lane, played by junior theater major Ali Sarnacchiaro. Mary Lane is also the feminine ideal of the thirties, a church-going girl whose main goal is to win the town dance competition and wear Jimmy Harper’s class ring. Thier picture-book lives are turned upside down when they get tangled up with the local reefer gang over at the five-and-dime.  Luring Jimmy into their dirty opium den, he has his first hit of the deadly substance. From there the play is a wild ride of sex, murder, cannibalism and hallucinations of Jesus. The scenes are held together by senior theater major Cameron Wright, who acts the narrator fiercely warning the crowd about “the stuff.”

In this performance, actors had to tackle come very controversial material, as they depict smoking and having sex on stage. Libkin doesn’t want his actors to hold back, and encourages his actors to go head on into the material.

“You have to address it directly and not be timid about it, if not we might loose some of the satire,” he said.

Junior theater major Taylor Gervais, who plays reefer addict washed up college boy Ralph Wiley, said that because everyone in the cast knew each other so well, those scenes are easy to do.

“You know what you have to do and you’re professional about it,” said Berry-Sandlin.

Visually, the show will be an astounding, completely with pot leaf pasties and trap doors. The set and costumes are only matched by the entire cast’s blatant enthusiasm, whether they are conveying the fifties upbeatness of wholesome teens or the darker drug dealers, they vibrate with energy. The entire show is like a two hour long musical trip.

Vanessa Beyland, the choreographer of the show, said that the most difficult part was trying to embody all of the different characters that the ensemble portrays throughout the play, going from Jesus’ angels to fresh-eating zombies. Beyland also said that she needed to make that the song,

“the song came across in the music, the audience has to stay with you the whole time”

This is the first time that Reefer Madness has been performed in Maine.

“It’s always fun rehearsing our singers and musicians on a score that the theater going community has never seen or heard before onstage.” said the show’s musical director, Ed Reichert.

But Reefer Madness is more that just sexuality, sin and sarcasm. Libkin reminds that especially the end of the play really shows the ugliness of today’s political climate. With the topic of legalizing marijuana hot on the press, this is an especially relevant show. Reefer Madness tackles the culture of pseudoscience and scare tactics to get the public to stay away from certain places, people and things.

“It’s actually a really serious show,” explained Sarnacchiaro. “Reefer Madness is about how we shut down everything that scares us.”

For tickets, call the box office at (207)-780-5151 or visit The audience will undoubtedly uncomfortably laugh and shift in their seat, all the while enraptured with every smokey second.  So leave the kids at home and come light up with USM’s Reefer Madness.



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