To PTC’s credit, they at least avoid the traditional pitfalls with this production. The subdued Stage Manager (Anderson Matthews) and appropriately muted minimal stage dressings (by Peter Harrison) set the proper restrained tone. The problem is that not all of the cast seems capable of following suit.
A common problem I’ve noticed among stage actors is that when asked to do less, they end up not doing much of anything at all. The cast members playing our young protagonists, Amelia McClain (Emily) and Eric Gilde (George) are guilty of that here. They’re not bad; they’re just sort of flat (for the first two acts at least—I’ll get to Act 3 momentarily). Their performances of the important but sticky stuff of youthful flirtation that dominate the early parts of the show, once stripped of their shorthand “Aw, shucks” sentiments, are left feeling bare and unconvincing.
It’s as if the first two hours are no more than a march toward the inevitable third act, which I have always felt is one of the most moving literary works on the nature of human mortality in the English language. In the final half hour, at least, PTC nails it. Every moment appears to have been painstakingly perfected in the final act. Unfortunately, it seems to have been to the detriment of the rest of the show.
It’s not that PTC’s Our Town wasn’t good; it’s just that for a classic of its stature, it isn’t good enough. Even still, when Emily Webb bids “goodbye to clocks ticking” in the final minutes, I get a lump in my throat. And so will you. —Rob Tennant
Dark Horse Company Theatre’s production of Kevin Murphy & Dan Studney’s 1998 Reefer Madness: The Musical is one of the best and most timely productions to hit the Utah boards in years. Reefer does not slyly lampoon or subtly caricature the hypocrisy of a media-driven fear-based culture; it blows the top right off it, joyfully tears it to shreds, and sweeps up the audience in a divinely decadent whirlwind of iconoclasm.
The show opens with The Lecturer (Justin Olsen) issuing an impassioned warning from behind a podium of the growing threat, and launching the cast into the title production number about the evils of demon-weed marijuana (“turning all our children into hooligans and whores!”) The momentum continues relentlessly as Olsen, with his slick exhortations and expert manipulation of the concerned citizenry, propels the story forward: We meet Jimmy (Bryan Matthew Hague) and Mary (Ashley Larue Grant)—teenage innocents destined, of course, for a bad end. Their impending doom is what makes Hague & Grant’s sweetly oblivious “Romeo & Juliet” duet such a delight.
Their confident dreams of a bright future are dashed when Jimmy—in search of a new kick and some swing-dance lessons—winds up in a seedy marijuana den owned by Mae (Dame Stefanie Dean), a tragic former beauty-turned-slattern whose connection to the thuggish and abusive Jack (Danny Tarasevich) is fueled by her addiction to “The Stuff.”
Reefer’s got so many great tunes and knockout production numbers, it flies in the face of the recent and depressing idea that it only takes two hit songs to make a show. After Jimmy takes his first puff, the orgy scene that ensues is a breathtaking spectacle. Another showstopper is Tarasevich in “Listen to Jesus, Jimmy.” And Kalyn West brings utter charm and unbelievable presence to her mute role as The Placard Girl.
With beautiful lighting and set design, and practically flawless technical execution, there’s nothing not to like about this production. See it immediately. Give yourself plenty of time to find parking. And get ready for a serious case of perma-grin. —Brandon Burt