The Colorado State University (CSU) Theater brings to light a whole new dimension of the original propaganda film Reefer Madness. They basically turn the film into a musical comedy that pokes fun at the hysteria caused by the original work. However, I don’t think it is the artist’s main purpose to just make fun of the ludicrous allegations made by the 1936 production. Instead, I think the artists were trying to illustrate how some people will go to the extreme to convince us of their ways even when it comes to the most harmless and minuscule of things.
The musical accomplish this by creating a mashup of theatrical styles and isms, such as using both high and low comedy, expressionism, and realism. First off, the musical had many elements of farce which is one of the forms of low comedy. The actors and actress were constantly moving at a fast pace. Whether it was characters running in and out of the scenes, the change from seldom moments to lively full on dance numbers, or the random brief appearances of a ringside girl with cue cards and simple replies.
The musical was so ever changing that you were just bound to see something new such as a character, prop, or scene. In addition, just as Reefer Madness had low comedy it also had high comedy. For example, the form comedy of ideas was extensively utilized. For when it came to such ideas the production showed the audience the importance to not lose one’s self in the social morals of others. In other words, the musical wants you to look at the entire picture and come to a reasonable, sensible conclusion instead of relying on other people.
Basically, the whole production is built and centered on this form of comedy. The artists took the assumptions made by the original film that reefer will lead people to turn violent, rape, steal and go mad and turned it into a musical with satirical and witty comedy. Next, the musical had a mix of realism and expressionism. The satirical comedy showed what the actors and actress where actually perceiving when tripping off the reefer. In some of the scenes we see the internal state of the characters and their perceptions, therefore, exemplifying the ideas of expressionism.
The production showed images of a zombie apocalypse, paranoid freak-outs, and dreamlike sequences. This is all illustrated by how the protagonist Jimmy perceives the characters when high on marijuana. For example, as stated before his fellow high school classmates are soon perceived as zombies or sex crazed maniacs who at one point have one of the people turned into a Centaur with a phallic attachment. In another dream sequence Jimmy encounters a musical hyped Jesus and his band of singing angels.
From that alone we see that there is a clear distortion of how Jimmy views the characters and the actual reality which are both brought to life on the stage. On the other hand, Reefer Madness also had many elements of realism. The set design for the most part was replicated to look like an actual high school. As you first walk inside you go through a hallway that is aligned with posters, notification board and student and teacher pictures, giving it a more realistic high school feel. Furthermore, the actual production was set up like a gym where the audience sat on bleachers to view the musical.
It was quite a refreshing and creative way to emphasize the environment they wanted to show to the audience. Also, the dialogue was natural sounding and many of the characters before the distortion by the reefer are very much like ordinary people. Their behaviors as high school students, teachers, and drug addicts where realistic and what you would expect from everyday interactions or situations. In conclusion, the musical did an amazing job in mixing styles and isms to create a very interesting satirical comedy.
Reefer Madness incorporated different forms of high and low comedy, which created a great balance of humor from ludicrous to political satire. It was nice to see them use different types of comedy instead of just one style such as slapstick or gags. The musical did a great job in mixing both so not only did they fit well but were also funny. Finally, Reefer Madness did a great job in mixing realism and expressionism to form a satirical comedy that not only pokes fun but conveys a deeper message of the dangers of being easily swayed.
The mixing of these two isms helped express what the characters were going through, their feelings and senses. It lets the viewers see the inner struggle and crazy like dream sequences that the reefer caused such individuals such as Jimmy, Mary, and Mae while still embodying realism elements such as the realistic setting and modern dialogue. As a result, the musical created a very worthwhile production that leaves the viewer with a deeper appreciation and understandings of the importance to think for oneself and to not just follow others blindly.