Mary Jane: A Musical
By SCOTTIE LEE MEYERS, Two Rivers Tribune
It is a good thing that marijuana is the economic engine that runs Humboldt County. You probably strongly agree or disagree with this statement.
Dell’ Arte’s “Mary Jane: A Musical,” makes it a moot point. The 30-year-old performing art institution in Blue Lake encourages us to put our partisan opinions away, if just for an evening, and embrace the fact that marijuana is part of Humboldt’s DNA. It just is, Que Sera, Sera. And no matter where you stand on the issue there is room for performance, laughter, singing, and most of all, community building.
Thursdays opening night of ‘Mary Jane’ kicked-off the 21st Annual Mad River Festival. The musical features Dell’ Arte’s founding director Joan Schirle in the title role as Queen of the Emerald Ball. She was joined by a troupe of 14 actors, each performing a unique Humboldt archetype.
The show is performed outdoors. I sat down in a green lawnchair in the back row next to a couple drinking some kind of neon-green concoction – a gin and chronic they said.
The sun shined its last amber rays when a four-piece band took the stage and opened with a medley of popular songs from the 60s and 70s that all had one thing in common. They all mentioned weed. The sing-a-long set featured Little Feat’s “Don’t Bogart That Joint,” Steve Miller Band’s “Space Cowboy,” Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee,” and a little rendition of “Puff the Magic Dragon” among others.
As each song flowed into the next, the baby boomer generation – which was the clear majority of the crowd – literally geeked out at each mention of marijuana.
It was then that I began to worry about what I was in for. I agonized over the idea of a two-hour show featuring a plethora of lowbrow pot jokes. I wasn’t in the mood for a Cheech and Chong movie. Most of all, I didn’t want a nostalgic look at the Summer of Love. I wanted something more relevant; something that I could identify with in our current culture. I would not be disappointed.
In her role as Queen of the Emerald Ball, Mary Jane navigates the musical from number to number, each time introducing us to a different perspective on marijuana. The storyline that lives between the music doesn’t add to much, but it doesn’t need to. Just like in Rocky Horror Picture Show, the plot is beside the point. The eccentric song and dance numbers are what matters.
Between songs, Mary Jane moves the production along by giving short but witty monologues. The material and punch lines feel fresh. “Why would I want to live in Arcata?” asks Mary Jane. “That’s where the people sleep outside and the plants sleep inside.”
Pot aside, Humboldt is known for embracing locally made products. Which is why ‘Mary Jane: The Musical’ works so well. The comedy is locally targeted. One scene pokes fun of the want-to-be jugglers at the Arcata Plaza and the hippie-activist types who cure life’s ailments with thrift and hula-hoops. There’s a character in the play called Kev Bissel, editor of The Cutten Ear. And there’s the mention of the lady who stands outside Wildberries with a sign that reads, “Will work for food or pot, but I prefer pot.” The satire is edgy but not mean.
Songs in the second half of the show focused more on the negative perspectives of the pot trade. The most dramatic of which is called ‘The Industry.’ With heavy metal guitar and rap verses, the song explores the perspective of Humboldt’s illegal growers that enjoy the clout of the black market. Illegal pot growers wage economic weaponry, the industry is too big to fail brags the tune.
Director Michael Fields said the production commissioned a dozen songwriters to create original compositions. Even with so many contributing creators, the production doesn’t feel fragmented. And even though you might disagree with some views presented in the musical, it remains innocent enough. I can only hope that ‘Grass Fed Beef: The Musical’ is next.
‘Mary Jane: A Musical’ runs June 30 to July 3 at Dell’ Arte’s Rooney Amphitheatre in Blue Lake. Advance tickets are $15 general; $12 students/seniors and $10 children under 12.