Randall King remembers seeing the notorious 1936 film Reefer Madness in a presentation at his school in 1962. “They brought us all into the auditorium,” he recalls, “and the nurse talked about a young man withdrawing from marijuana, foaming at the mouth, wetting the bed. It was horrible.”
A lot can change in a half-century. Depending on how one counts, the city of San Jose has about 100 medical-marijuana dispensaries and collectives, and starting June 5, San Jose Stage Company, of which King is co-founder and artistic director, will premier a musical version of Reefer Madness—a production that the company calls, with tongue in cheek, “smoking hot.” It promises to be the high point of the summer.
King, who is directing Reefer Madness: The Musical, admits to doing a lot of “research”—some of it even academic. He says that it is designed to be an amusing glimpse at a different time but adds, “I also found it fits our mission statement [to educate audiences] in terms of educating them not just about the boycott on marijuana or hemp in the early 1900s, but also about the thousands of years before that, when it was used as a fiber and a medicine. I mean, even clipper-ship sails were made out of it.”
Reefer Madness: The Musical is yet another example of what has made San Jose Stage Company, founded back in 1982-83, into a South Bay institution.
King says that the company was originally started by a collective of SJSU students who had worked regionally in the theater scene and wanted to create a permanent company to put on compelling plays. They found a small place to perform and unleashed an incredible energy, “a conduit to the audience.” The Stage became known for its productions of Sam Shepard plays and David Mamet’s American Buffalo.
King starred in many early productions by the company. He eventually carved out an impressive career as an actor and director, going on to work in television and with the likes of Francis Ford Coppola and Michael Bay. But instead of running off to Hollywood, he has stayed true to his roots in San Jose, regularly returning to San Jose to perform.
Over the years King found himself increasingly taking over many of the company’s business activities: “I was pretty much pushed into the stage director position, but we have always worked as an ensemble company, and the choices I make as artistic director are really choices collectively made for the creative energies of the company.”
The hard work has paid off. Says King, “In the last few years, the survival of the company has depended not only on the creative choices and making ourselves happy as artists but also on making sure that we’re stimulating interest in patrons to come see what we are doing.”
Just as important, says King, the Stage is a local jewel in what has become a healthy national trend toward local theater. “When we started San Jose Stage, the Bay Area had about 13 theater companies. … Now there are about 300. There is a huge movement across the country now, especially in the metropolitan areas.”
He continues, “More important is that it’s not about spectacle. It is about holding your audience and giving them an experience that will have an impact long after the play is done. Nothing satisfies me more.”
King believes that a musical rendition of Reefer Madness is exactly the type of show that can enrapture an audience, from young people who don’t think twice about walking into a medical marijuana shop to oldsters who can remember the original Reefer Madness and want to enjoy a celebration of the crazy twists that history can make.
“It’s a fun show,” King says. “We have a great group of actors in it. I wanted this ensemble to come together, and now I really feel like they’ve clicked. This show has got that great energy that really attracts all types of audiences. People who don’t even like marijuana still love the play, and love what the play says. And it’s cool to see the audience come together in a way to tell this particular story.”
Reefer Madness: The Musical
Opens June 5 at the Stage, San Jose
On June 21, at 7pm, San Jose Stage Company will celebrate its 30th anniversary—and the 20th anniversary of its annual political satire, Monday Night Live. The show will be headlined by comedian Kevin Pollak, who was born in Willow Glen. Local politicians will attend at their own peril as the company plunders the reputations of everyone from mayor to dogcatcher. The show takes place at the Silicon Valley Athletic Club’s Corinthian Grand Ballroom.
Broadway San Jose
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
American Idiot; June 4-9. The traveling edition of the rock musical based on the Green Day album.
California Theatre Center
Summer Repertory Season; May 30-July 31. During the rest of the year, CTC concentrates on family entertainment; for the summer, it switches to three grown-up plays in repertory. This year’s lineup features Dangerous Corner by J.B. Priestley, Lost in Hollywood by Gayle Cornelison (with music by Jeffra Cook) and The Women by Clare Boothe Luce.
Spacebar (A Broadway Play by Kyle Sugerman); May 30-June 23; City Lights, San Jose. Michael Mitnick actually wrote Spacebar, a comedy about a needy, nerdy teenager from Colorado who storms Broadway with a science-fiction play so full of impossible special effects that he is sure it will fail spectacularly.
2120 Broadway St, Redwood City
New Play Development Factory; May 24-June 9. A chance to sample three plays in the works from Bay Area writers: Almost Happy by Jacob Marx Rice, The Killing Jar by Jennifer Lynne Roberts and Sexbot 2600 by Jake Arky.
Becky’s New Car; July 12-Aug 4. A comedy by Steve Dietz about a woman who sets off on an unexpected adventure.
Foothill Music Theatre
Smithwick Theatre, Foothill College, Los Altos Hills
Damn Yankees; July 26-Aug 18. The summer production revives the popular 1950s musical about a desperate Washington Senators (think Chicago Cubs for a modern equivalent) fan who makes a deal with the devil so his team can beat the invincible Yankees. The best part belongs to the devil’s sexy helpmate, Lola, who delivers the most memorable song, “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets.”
Los Altos Stage Company
Bus Barn Theater, Los Altos
Avenue Q; May 23-June 22. Now officially having changed its name from Bus Barn to Los Altos Stage Company, the troupe presents the irreverent musical about a new New Yorker and his snarky puppet friends.
Northside Theatre Company
Olinder Theatre, San Jose
The Little Dog Laughed; June 20-July 14. In Douglas Carter Beane’s Hollywood satire, a beleaguered agent tries to keep her client’s flamboyantly gay activities out of the news.
Palo Alto Players
Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto
Boeing Boeing; June 14-30. The season winds up with a fast-paced farce about a bachelor’s attempts to keep his three mistresses at bay.
Pear Theatre, Mountain View
Hanging Georgia; May 24-June 9. One of the great and stormy artistic affairs of the 20th-century brought together photographer Alfred Stieglitz and his young protege, painter Georgia O’Keeffe. The musical drama will be performed by the BootStrap Theater ensemble.
Superior Donuts; June 28-July 14. The Pear’s second play of the summer is Tracy (Bug) Letts’ comedy about the friendship between a Polish-American draft resister and an African American man who wants to become a writer.
San Jose Repertory Theatre
The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus; continues through June 2
A Minister’s Wife; June 20-July 14. SJ Rep presents the West Coast premiere of Austin Pendleton’s romantic musical adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s Candida. about a reverend’s wife torn between the dictates of Victorian society and the passionate embrace of a poet.
Tabard Theatre Company
Theatre on San Pedro Square
World Goes Round; July 26-Aug 25. A revue centered on the songs of Kander and Ebb, the team responsible for Chicago, Cabaret and other hits.
Wild With Happy; June 5-30; Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Colman Domingo’s comedy gets its West Coast premiere after being workshopped two years ago at the company’s New Works Festival. Domingo himself plays a hard-up actor who decides to forgo mourning when his mother dies, and instead goes on a road trip to the place that made her the happiest.
The Loudest Man on Earth; July 10-Aug 4; Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto. The 2013-14 season gets started with Catherine Rush’s romantic comedy about a deaf stage director and a young female reporter who sort their way though an unusual relationship. It’s a world premiere.
Other Desert Cities; Aug 21-Sept 15; Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. A comedy about a Hollywood big shot, a family Christmas retreat and a daughter who wants to tell all in a memoir.
Stanford Summer Theater Festival
Pigott Theater, Memorial Auditorium
The festival, which runs from June until the end of August, features workshops and classes plus comedies by Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett (whose funny side is still pretty dark): Happy Days runs Aug 15-25; The Importance of Being Earnest runs July 18-Aug 11.
West Valley Light Opera
Saratoga Civic Theater
9 to 5; June 29-July 27. The musical version of the popular movie about working girls taking revenge on a pointy-haired boss.
The Los Gatos Shakespeare Festival runs July 19-Aug 10, with Hamlet, The Comedy of Errors and The Further Adventures of the Three Musketeers. Shows take place at Oak Meadow park.
At Sanborn County Park, the Shady Shakespeare Theatre Company will present The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), running July 26-Sept 1; Twelfth Night, July 5-21; and Romeo and Juliet, July 26-31 at Bramhall Park in San Jose.
San Francisco’s Shakespeare in the Park brings Macbeth to Memorial Park Amphitheater in Cupertino (July 20-Aug 4) and Sequoia High School in Redwood City (Aug 10-25).