I’m not so conversant with the current status (or vocabulary) but it seems fair to say that the Dell’Arte summer show, Mary Jane: The Musical, is another recent landmark in open integration, if only because its official sponsor is the Humboldt Growers Association, formed to address issues involving medical cannabis. Maybe secret wads of cash that have aided various artistic enterprises need be secret no longer.
Regardless of opinions on NORML, the crowd that came to opening night looked very (Humboldt) normal. Perhaps fewer young families with kids sprawled on blankets but otherwise there was the usual age mix, the same local establishment figures, and even less of that weedy aroma around than on an ordinary afternoon in Arcata.
Though the event was something of a coming out party for “the Industry,” the show itself suggested issues and complexities on cultural and personal levels without a unified political stand. It was a “normal” Dell’Arte summer show: music, laughs, spectacle and fun, with lots of local references and ironies.
But the topic was, as Mary Jane says, “our morality tale, our telenovela, a romantic myth, a foreign invasion, a black market, a daily headline, a medical movement, the reason we still got anything resembling an economy.”
The pre-show music recognized the pre-60s history of marijuana in America with tunes from the 20s and 30s black music culture, like “Smoking Reefers” about puffing misery away, which includes the lines: “It’s the kind of stuff dreams are made of/it’s the thing that white folks are afraid of.”
Joan Schirle, in a long dress and bright lipstick as Mary Jane, starts off with a buoyant, dazzling Broadway-style production number that would be a complete show stopper except that it’s the opening song. Schirle’s command of the stage and our attention carries through the evening, even as she becomes pretty much an m.c. for a dozen more songs by as many local composers.
But there’s also bad vibes in “The Industry” by Scott Menzies, staged as second-generation cynicism and rebellion in heavy metal and hip hop: “I hide in your neighborhood, hide behind closed doors/ Hear the lamps buzz as mold spreads on the floors/Jacked up housing prices skewed economy/ I am The Industry, it's all about me!” There’s also angry accusation: “All who share in Humboldt County's prosperity/Share culpability.”
David Powell and Ryan Musil are among this troupe of pleasing singers, dancers and actors. Michael Fields’ direction was able and imaginative, as were the contributions of Tim Randles (music), Daniel Spencer (scene), Michael Foster (lighting), Lydia Foreman (costumes), Laura Munoz (choreography), Zuzka Sabata and David Powell (vocal arranging.) The necessarily versatile band was Tim Randles, Marla Joy and Mike LaBolle, with Scott Menzies’ guitar on “The Industry.”
Mary Jane: The Musical continues outdoors in the Dell’Arte Rooney Amphitheatre Thursday through Sunday, July 3.