by Russell Bennett and Gillian Stevens-Guille
Firehall Arts Centre
March 22-April 3

The conflict in this play is clear from the moment Russell Bennett comes running on stage through clouds of smoke in his lawyer’s robes and furtively confesses, “I love pot—is that wrong?”

In this one-man love letter to our favourite illegal substance, Bennett plays the seriously conflicted Charlie Kovacs, lawyer and law-breaker, wannabe good Jewish son and master marijuana cultivator, straight guy and his alter ego Reefer Man, the Johnny Appleseed of weed.

A lawyer and marijuana advocate himself, Bennett is also an accomplished comic actor, playing twenty other roles ranging from familiar East Indian and kvetchy Jewish mother stereotypes to original characters who people his Woody Allenish world of nervous anxiety. Plus he verbalizes all the sound effects: cell phone tones, movie sound tracks and more.

In the typical linear structure of fictionalized autobiography, Charlie recounts the history of his reefer madness, from his first joint in high school (“O wow, man, look at the stars!”), to his biology major in university where he became an expert in growing the stuff, to law school where got the moniker “Reefer Man.”

His double life continues as he reluctantly joins his father’s bankruptcy law practice and develops an elaborate “garden” (he never says “grow-op”) in his home basement. Following the inevitable bust, Charlie goes on trial and, in the weakest part of the play, tries to reconcile his life with his parents’ expectations.

The show offers highs galore. Bennett is great as Charlie reeling off the names of the many varieties of weed with almost orgasmic pleasure and laughing mad-scientist maniacally about developing new hybrids. If his mother is a cliché, his father is deadpan perfect, expressing his shame when Charlie gets busted: “Why can’t you be an alcoholic like other lawyers?”

The best scenes involve Charlie’s stoner friend and partner, Max. At the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam where they’ve entered Charlie’s new strain of bud, Max’s celebrity sightings include Tommy Chong, Woody Harrelson, the Bush twins, Gordon Campbell… In a funny and informative dope-fuelled séance, Max channels Prime Minister Mackenzie King, whose opium nightmare in racist Vancouver circa 1908 explains the origin of marijuana prohibition laws in Canada.

Director Gillian Stevens-Guille, who co-wrote the script with Bennett, keeps the eighty minute show moving briskly and gives each scene a new twist, though with mixed results. In the trial, played as a boxing match with Charlie as Rocky, the senile judge is beautifully conceived but Charlie’s punching is amateurishly choreographed.

Good natured and entertaining, complete with post-show quiz and prizes—a hemp ball cap, seeds, grow-your-own literature—The Reefer Man is unlikely to draw the ire of the pot police. But it never really made me go “O wow, man” either.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Saturday, March 26, 2005 3:22 PM
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