`Reefer Madness’

Corrections or additions?

This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the October 31,

2001 edition

of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Off-Broadway: Metamorphoses

Mary Zimmerman, the Chicago-based director whose work

("The Odyssey," "Arabian Nights") is notable for its

imagination, originality, cleverness and exotic subjects, has created

another jewel, this time derived from Ovid’s collection of

mythological

stories.

Dreamlike and fantastical, "Metamorphoses" is presented in

and around a 27-foot-long pool. Its blue waters shimmer in the glow

of T.J. Gerchken’s luminous lighting designs. Although the projection

of heavenly clouds overhead, in Daniel Ostling’s abstractly Romanesque

setting, may intimate the passageway to earth of the gods, it is

through

a mere doorway that they are afforded their entrances and exits. As

she did so cleverly with "The Odyssey" (seen at the McCarter

Theater last season), Zimmerman has laced these ancient, fantastical

stories of gods and their interventions in the lives of mortals with

a sparkling contemporary wit.

While Zimmerman’s vision is played out in varying ritualistic and

formalized styles, her text flirting with both flights of heavenly

poetry and more common and earthy prose, there is always a

comedy-enhanced

contemporary edge superimposed upon the stories. These are played

out in both tranquil and turbulent waters. Notwithstanding a violent

storm at sea, or a sustained underwater action, the actors always

emerge and submerge ready to carry on their daunting and diverting

assignments. More than an aquacade of myths, "Metamorphoses"

weaves its dramatic magic from the moment King Midas goes off on his

quest to undo the curse of his golden touch. The need we have to

resolve

our relationships with those we have loved and lost, and for undoing

the wrongs we have done to those we love, are among the notable themes

in this episodic tapestry.

The ancient tales are sandwiched between the psycho-analytical

sessions

between Phaeton and his pool-side therapist. Wearing sunglasses and

swimming trunks and paddling about in his inflatable raft, Phaeton

tries to make sense of his relationship with his ever-on-the-move

father, the sun god Apollo. The tale of Alcyon and Ceyx, lovers

separated

by fate but reunited as sea birds after death, is the first of tale

of metamorphosis.

While many of the stories reveal the power of love and sorrow to

transform

us, they also serve to remind us how, when tragedies occur, there

are extraordinary powers constantly conspiring to test our mettle

and our wings. Among the more unsettling stories is the one in which

a father unwittingly commits incest when his daughter Myrrha is

tricked

by the gods. Trickery by the gods is common in the other stories that

include Hermes and Zeus as two beggars, Psyche and Eros, and

Aphrodite.

The 10-member cast, most of whom, are part of the Zimmerman ensemble,

are all exemplars of the director’s sometimes cute, but more often

dazzling, directorial conceits. Many of these conceits are contained

in costumer Mara Blumenfeld’s ravishing and rib-tickling apparel.

While Zimmerman credits Freud, Jung, and James Hillman for part of

her text, we can credit Zimmerman for finding a way to bridge two

worlds, by honoring the ancient while embracing the modern,

illuminating

the present by the looking at the past. "Metamorphoses" is

story theater at its finest and most engaging, especially appropriate

now in the world we have recently inherited.

— Simon Saltzman

Metamorphoses, Second Stage Theater, 307 West 43rd Street

$35 to $55. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.

Top Of Page
`Reefer Madness’

The 1936 exploitation quickie "Reefer Madness"

holds its place, along with "Plan 9," "Attack of the

Killer

Tomatoes," etc., as one of the worst films of all time. This cult

phenomenon remains a laughably inane and inept polemic to educate

the public on the evils of marijuana, and how it corrupts and destroys

young lives — one puff can lead to insanity and death. An attempt

by collaborators Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney to redefine the

grotesquely

hilarious film in musical terms and also cash in on the current wave

of genre satires, like "Urinetown" and "Bat Boy,"

goes wildly amiss in a embarrassingly amateurish entertainment. Except

for a game and courageous cast, although many appear too old for their

roles as teens, the script they have to deal with, the dances they

have to perform, and the music they have to sing are unrelentingly

grade-school level.

By and large the problems with the show begin with director Andy

Fickman,

who evidently was afraid that the material wouldn’t hold up without

a lot of flagrant nudging. An aggressive push to have the performers

mock the characters they are playing is one fundamental flaw; it works

against the point and purpose of satire — to expose stupidities

and follies in artful disguise. Pandering to the audience, the company

neutralizes whatever meager amount of wit and cleverness might be

gleaned from Murphy and Studney’s awkward smirking book, Murphy’s

lyrics, and Studney’s generic faux rock-swing score. Although there

is much self-congratulatory wallowing by the cast, Gregg Edelman does

his best to sustain a stiff-necked fix on his role as the moralizing

lecturer, much as the narrator does in "The Rocky Horror

Show."

The plot spins around the disintegration of a romance between

wholesome

16-year-old Jimmy (Christian Campbell), and pretty, pig-tailed Mary

(Kristen Bell). During a typical afternoon of jitterbugging (the first

of choreographer Paula Abdul’s frenetic but pedestrian contributions)

at the soda shop, Jimmy is lured by Jack (Robert Torti), a sleazy

local drug pusher, to his lair. In that Jack’s stoned

mistress-in-bondage,

Mae (Michelle Pawk), stumbles around helplessly between trips to

another

room to shut up her crying baby, she is unable to keep Jimmy from

being seduced by a blond floozy named Sally (Erin Matthew).

Mary is similarly ill fated. Her futile attempt to help Jimmy, who,

while under the influence, steals her car and kills a pedestrian,

only makes her a victim of the noxious weed. It’s the electric chair

for Jimmy and a trip to hell for Mary, not to mention the audience

that is told when to laugh by an usherette who strolls through the

action with placards that are supposed to be funny. The retro conceit

of the show, one that has worked for countless other shows like

"Little

Shop of Horrors," fails because "Reefer Madness" hasn’t

the courage to believe in itself, or help us believe in its

absurdities.

One lamentably over-produced fantasy musical number, in which Torti

portrays a glitzy-costumed Las Vegas Jesus surrounded by a chorus

line of angel showgirls, is merely painful to watch. One’s heart goes

out to the valiant Torti, the scene-stealing Pawke, the sweetly

over-energized

Campbell and Bell, who do what they can to rise above the material

and avoid the hazards of Walt Spangler’s treacherously ugly setting.

Perhaps passing out a little weed with the playbill would help.

— Simon Saltzman

Reefer Madness, Variety Arts Theater, 110 3rd Avenue $20

to $60. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.


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