Our Town, Reefer Madness:The Musical | Theater | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Our Town, Reefer Madness:The Musical 

Old Fashion: Theatrical tales of simpler times, both sincere and satirical.

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Thorton Wilder’s Our Town, playing now at Pioneer Theatre Company, is a giant of 20th-century theater. Its young lead characters, combined with deceptively simple language and themes, make it a favorite of secondary-school drama teachers everywhere—which is part of why it tends to be misunderstood. Though often portrayed as a sappy, sentimental love letter to small-town life, Our Town wouldn’t have won the Pulitzer Prize if it hadn’t had a little more meat on its bones than just that.

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

Pioneer Theatre Company
300 S. 1400 East
Through March 27


If, like me, you’ve been mourning the death of satire, you’ll be pleased to hear that the art of high camp is alive and well and living in Park City.

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

Dark Horse Company Theatre
Egyptian Theatre

328 Main, Park City
Through March 28


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Rob Tennant

Rob Tennant is a Salt Lake City freelance writer.

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