Reefer Madness

Start the school year off with everything your parents warned you about — sex, drugs and…show tunes? Okay, so maybe a musical isn’t what comes to mind for an end-of-the-summer celebration, but Reefer Madness isn’t exactly as wholesome as Guys and Dolls and South Pacific. The musical was based on the 1936 film of the same name meant to scare the bejeezus out of anyone even thinking about trying the evil marijuana. With one puff, the protagonist is transformed into a sex-hungry, abusive, spastic, cackling drug fiend who will stop at nothing to get his next fix. The musical takes this idea and runs all the way to a crack house with it. The cast of Reefer Madness play their roles with all the campiness necessary to satirize the film’s attempt to overdramatize the effects of marijuana.

“This play totally makes fun of propaganda,” says Sofia Mendez. “It takes it, balls it up and throws it back into your face.” Mendez plays leading lady Mary Lane, who fights to win back her boyfriend Jimmy Harper from his new love Mary Jane (wink, wink). Jimmy’s battle is played out to songs like “Listen to Jesus, Jimmy,” a ‘70s-inspired, gospel dance number starring an Afro-clad black Jesus, and “Down at the Ol’ Five and Dime,” about how a malt shop could be a front for a drug operation. The musical has become a cult classic for its Rocky Horror-esque appeal (i.e., risqué content and irreverent attitude).

Of course, this is also why the show hasn’t been embraced by the more conservative suburban crowd. This is nothing new for director John “Cash” Carpenter, who sent a few shock waves through the neighborhoods surrounding North Harris Community College last year with his production of Urinetown. He says his announcement to close the season this year with Reefer Madness was met with many a raised eyebrow. “I had to go through every power that be to get it approved,” Cash says. “And then I’ve had to write all kinds of things like ‘We’re not going to smoke reefer onstage.’” He adds there was also a voice of concern from outside the college. “People are saying this is trash theater, I shouldn’t be doing it, it’s for kids, it’s not true art, it’s potty humor,” he says. Actress Tara Bostwick says her mother even had objections. “[She said] ‘I can’t take my church friends to see it.’”

Of course, these fears and concerns about Reefer Madness’s content are what the musical addresses. Many of the performers say their friends are looking forward to the show — and even offered to provide them with realistic props (read: weed).

To listen to a podcast with Houston Press assistant Night & Day editor Dusti Rhodes and the cast and director of Reefer Madness, visit


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