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Review: "Reefer Madness" at the Off Center Theatre

Precision, precision, precision.

That’s I’ve come to expect from any show directed by Steven Eubank. His current production of the postmodern tomfoolery “Reefer Madness” is singular for the precision of his cast’s collective timing, individual physical performances and the use of lighting and music.

Eubank, as usual, is working on a limited budget and truthfully this show doesn’t need any extra bells and whistles. It works just fine in the intimate Off Center Theatre. But you can’t help wonder what Eubank and this creative team -- musical director Daniel Doss, choreographers Kendra Gunther-Burke and Tiffany Powell, lighting and set designer Alex Perry and costume designer Erika Atkins – could do on a bigger stage with a bigger payroll.

Lyricist Kevin Murphy and composer Dan Studney based their show (first staged in 1999) on the notorious 1936 “educational film” about the dangers of marijuana addiction that stoned college students discovered and began watching for laughs in the 1970s.

Our guide through this cautionary tale is the pompous and absurdly humorless Lecturer (Doogin Brown), who relates the story of two undamaged teens (KC Comeaux and Kelli Hahn) whose idyllic American love story is ripped apart after young Jimmy Harper stumbles into a marijuana den.

There he encounters Jack (Ben Byard), the pusher always on the prowl for new victims; Mae (Kat Sodders), a pot addict occasionally haunted by a tattered conscience; Sally (Katie Kalahurka), a strung-out vamp willing to sell her own baby for pot money; and Ralph (Noah Whitmore), a compulsive pot smoker given to fits of hysterical laughter.

Eubank delivers stylized theater in the best sense of the word. The moveable scenery brings us in and out of “reality” quickly and efficiently and he handles the on-stage violence by having his actors provide the sound effects – shouting “bang” when a gun goes off and “smack” when somebody gets slapped.

Brown delivers a hilarious performance that dominates the proceedings but the actors are uniformly good. Some of them take their cues directly from the film (especially the manic Whitmore) and each in his or own way makes an indelible impression.

The cast is backed up by an ensemble of talented dancer/singers whose physical abilities are pushed to the limit by the wildly creative choreography. And their vocal harmonies deliver a big, intoxicating sound.

Studney mines the best of American pop music from various eras to deliver a rich, irresistible score. Murphy’s lyrics are as agreeably ridiculous as you might expect.

My only complaint is that certain members of the cast aren’t pitch perfect in their individual numbers. But I guess you can’t have everything.

Final verdict: If you’re in the market for a show as entertaining as it is smart, this is the one for you. This is good stuff.

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