My favorite word is "quiddity." It refers to the defining characteristic of someone or something — that which makes something what it is. A play is an opportunity to explore and hopefully express the innate essence of a person or place. Humboldt County has many defining attributes — the rugged coast, the ancient redwoods, an independent and innovative population. And weed. Whether you love it, hate it, or couldn't care less about it, there is no denying marijuana's entrenched role in our culture and economy. Developed by ensemble members and directed by Michael Fields, Mary Jane: The Musical III wholeheartedly embraces the sticky issue — seeds, stems and all — as it returns to the stage in this renewed age of cultivation controversy.
The ensemble starts the show off with a rousing musical review of cannabis culture hits through the ages. Joan Schirle reprises her role as Mary Jane and by the time the story begins and she graces the stage, the audience is primed for reefer related revelry. Cast members portray a range of pot personalities and recognizable community figures as they perform numbers that draw upon nearly every musical style. Much of the first act stays safely in the realm of the cute and kitschy — tie-dye and bedazzled bongs abound — but as the show progresses, the songs become increasingly message laden.
Mary Jane is infused throughout with Dell'Arte's signature commitment to silliness and provides ample opportunity for the cast to show off its skilled physicality. It is also a sincere social commentary on the unique culture of our community. As it entertains, it honestly presents the conflicted and passionate opinions people hold about marijuana. Numbers like "Grow Inside," a ballad of indoor and outdoor plants, and "Humboldt Honey," a toast to the local ladies, are pure frivolous fun.
The themes are far harder hitting in "The Industry" and "Ghost Town," as the harsh realities and consequences of the lifestyle are examined. On opening night I sat behind two adorable young children watching in rapt attention as the cast performed "Officer and Child," a song about kids raised by parents who grow pot. The moment grew especially poignant. Please don't be mistaken — the show is most definitely both family-friendly and a comedy, one that invites us to think honestly and critically about our community. In the end, the piece presents both an engaging, fun story and what feels like sincere strategies for continuing to ask — and attempt to answer — these questions together.
The talented cast is backed by the onstage band led by Tim Randles. The consistently strong choreography is by Laura Munoz, and Tim Gray provides music direction and sound design. Costume design is by Lydia Foreman with scenic design provided by Daniel Spencer. An interesting note — Dell'Arte is already working on the next incarnation of this ongoing project, Mary Jane: a Musical Potumentary, which will bring all the puff and circumstance to the big screen.
Mary Jane: The Musical III runs through July 5 with performances Thursday through Sunday at 8 p.m. The production takes the stage in Dell'Arte's outdoor Rooney Amphitheatre. It does get chilly as the sun sets, so dress in warm clothing and bring a blanket or lawn chair for seating. It is recommended to show up 30 to 45 minutes before the show to stake out a spot on the lawn. Tickets are $18 general admission. For more information, call 668-5663.
Sylvia opens at Ferndale Repertory Theatre on June 26. This comedy about a New York couple whose lives are upended after they take in a saucy poodle-lab mix named Sylvia runs through July 12. For more information call 786-5483.
The 25th annual Mad River Festival continues at Dell'Arte through July 19. Enjoy diverse and engaging performances from local and international artists. Full schedule of events available at www.dellarte.com.