Live Active Cultures 

Looking for a Halloween diversion devoid of lines or little kids? Consider one of these theatrical thrills.

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This week, as we count down to All Hallows’ Eve, go for a theatrical thrill – here are three to consider.

Reefer Madness: The Musical
(Theatre Downtown): Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney based their 1998 show on an infamous 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda film of the same name (also known as Tell YourChildren). The original (available on Netflix) is as unintentionally hilarious as anything by Ed Wood; the musical subverts its earnest moralizing while appropriating the paper-thin plot. Squeaky-clean teens Jimmy Harper (SageStarkey) and Mary Lane (Shannon Bilo-Zepf ) are seduced into addiction by hep-cat hemp dealer Jack Stone (Ralphy Colon) and his den of weed freaks (Victor Souffrant, Jackie Prutsman, Stephen Pugh). Despite the warnings of our narrator (John Gracey) and Jesus Christ himself (Adam Del Medico), Jimmy and Mary succumb to wanton sensuality and depraved violence as soon as they take a few puffs or nibbles of brownie, brightly belting clever pop-rock lyrics as they lurch toward drugged ruination.

Reefer is a smartly written show (especially this version, which incorporates additions from the 2005 film), and director Steve MacKinnon has assembled some stellar players. The doomed lovers, Starkey and Bilo- Zepf, both have their dorky Disney grins down pat; Pugh crazily out-cackles role originator John “Cryptkeeper” Kassir as frat-boy loser Ralph; and Gracey is somberly game in multiple roles, despite an appendectomy on openingweekend. As a pre-existing fan of the property, I enjoyed revisiting the characters and songs especially the riotous “Little Mary Sunshine” S&M sequence), but I’m afraid this production may appear less than the sum of its parts to the uninitiated. Spencer Crosswell’s fivepiece band supplies tight sax-accented backing tracks, but they often overwhelm the muddy vocals, and Spencer Morrow’s choreography is uncharacteristically constrained. MacKinnon’s direction concentrates on camp at the expense of satire; moments intended to have honest emotion are undercut by goofy business, ensuring everything stays at surface level. There are high times to be had here, but the razor-sharp sting of the show’s “patriotic” final refrains (“And once the reefer has been destroyed/ We’ll start on Darwin and Sigmund Freud … When danger’s near/Exploit their fear/The end will justify the means!”) is dulled by the incessant winking.

The Painter (Greater Orlando Actors Theatre): On the opposite end of the tonal spectrum, writer-performer Roger Floyd’s The Painter is searingly grave. I’ve known Floyd for most of a decade, and I believe he’s beenworking on this poetic “dramatic on Jack the Ripper” for the bulk of that time. The last time I saw it staged, it was a two-actor piece; this time around, GOAT’s new home near Crealdé hosts a new revision, one that Floyd has fleshed out with an additional performer. Floyd embodies Walter Sickert, who novelist Patricia Cornwell fingered as the infamous English eviscerator in a controversial 2002 book, while Leesa Castaneda and Krystal Gillette writhe alongside him as Whitechapel whores turned demonic devotees. Floyd weaves speculation about the artist’s homicidal impulses (motivated by his mangled genitals) with references to Ovid, Virgil and Yeats.

The Painter contains flashes of sentimentality and black humor (the Catholic priest who urges Sickert to suicide provokes grim laughter), but the bulk consists of Floyd stalking about the dimly lit space, sweating and spitting out unhinged rage. The viewer bathes in depravity and despair as he vomits one explicit defilement after another at their feet. The actors’ commitment to expressing the ecstatic intensity of sacrificial worship of the god of chaos is certifiable, and Floyd’s full-throttle insanity is impressive, but the intensity could use modulation; if it were any longer than 70 minutes, I’m not sure I’d survive.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Majestic Theater at Revolution): For a final tricky treat, Dark Side of Saturn has mounted a scrappy staging of the latter-day cult classic Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Since her 1998 stage debut, John Cameron Mitchell’s gender-bent East German glam-rocker has strutted across the stages of Orlando’s Fringe, the Abbey and (most recently) Parliament House. Now she’scompleting her gay-hangout punch card with a stay at Revolution Nightclub. This latest version, directed by Tara Corless, has an appropriately punk-rock DIY look and feel; limited lighting and terrible sound are balanced by interactive blocking and anarchic attitude. Brian Thompson nicely captures Hedwig’s humor and mercurial fragility, though he handles rock vocals better than ballads. Dorothy Massey’s Yitzhak sounds dynamite while seething with resentment, and Andy Matchett’s band (Mike Faraj, Daniel Pacchioni, Colby Peters) kicks ass. And the $1 drinks at the bar don’t hurt, either.

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