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Silly 'Reefer Madness' wisps by quickly

This sounds like a veiled insult but it's not: One of the best things about a new stage version of Reefer Madness is that it's only 45 minutes long.

Conciseness is a wonderful and fairly rare attribute in theater. But it's essential in this play, which gets its appeal mostly through deliberate silliness and a designed veneer of amateurism. Those are workable qualities in something this compact, something that could be considered either a short play or a long skit. But they could easily become annoying in anything longer.

Reefer Madness has been the title of a film — a tongue-in-cheek 1936 antidrug movie that became a cult classic starting in the 1970s — and a 1999 musical.

The current production from Economic Stimulus Productions (the people who brought us the very successful review of Tom Lehrer songs) is something else. It's a nonmusical written and directed by the company's artistic director, T. Scott Wooten, and is only very loosely based on the movie.

Fast paced and intentionally ridiculous, it's designed for late-night audiences. It seems to want to poke fun at something, but it's not quite clear where its satirical arrows are aimed.

Perhaps we're supposed to laugh at the exaggerated fear of marijuana depicted in the original film. (Kids smoke pot and immediately become homicidal devotees of jazz.) Theater devotees will probably get a kick out of parody of bad low-budget amateur theater evident in the overacting and the technical inadequacies. (One actor has to bend over and turn on a footlight every time he delivers a monologue.)

Mostly, we're probably meant to laugh at the characters themselves, from the clean-cut kids straight from '50s sitcoms and the naive mom with a Sarah Palin accent to the Dragnet-style villains who troll the high school offering free marijuana to get the kids hooked.

It doesn't much matter, though, because it's all over so quickly we don't have time to think. The four-person cast (Wooten, Michael Titone, Katie Castonguay and Jan Ray, all in multiple roles) are intent on providing us with a little dumb fun, nothing more, and they do it very well.

Marty Clear is a Tampa writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at mclear@tampabay.com.

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Reefer Madness

Through Nov. 30 at American Stage. About 45 minutes. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Sunday, 10:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. Pay what you can. (727) 823-7529.

Silly 'Reefer Madness' wisps by quickly 11/18/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 9:57am]
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