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“Yes Weed Can” is a musical comedy packed with big laughs and upbeat hilarious songs, but it’s not your typical stoner fare. You will leave the theater with an education in the ridiculous history of marijuana prohibition in America (and sore abs). Writers Shawn Handlon & Jaime Moyer weave hilarious historical flashbacks throughout the main story to create a show that addresses the serious effects of prohibition with equal doses of humor and heart.
Co-writer Moyer plays Tammy, a present-day weed dealer with a felony record due to an ill-advised vacation to Texas with a pound of her roommate’s weed. Moyer is a powerhouse of a performer who was clearly born to entertain. With her impeccable comedic timing and brassy belting voice, she is a modern day Ethel Merman. Tammy has big plans to tackle her To-Do list this weekend, but after deciding to smoke “maybe half a bowl,” she finds it’s already Sunday night, and she spent the whole weekend on the couch.
Tammy quits smoking weed and learns that her boss, THC (Hans Holsen), is laying her off and leaving the drug trade because medical marijuana has made his profession obsolete. THC offers Tammy this nugget of wisdom: “You’ve got a poli-sci degree and a big mouth. Maybe you should run for Congress.”
Tammy returns home to brainstorm new career ideas with her stoner roommate Megan (Amanda Blake Davis) and Megan’s annoying boyfriend Rick (Nathan Caywood), but as a convicted felon, her options are extremely limited. She can still run for Congress, however, and work to change the laws that are holding her (and hundreds of thousands of others) down. Tammy is sure it was not marijuana that sidetracked her life; it was the drug laws. She finds a supporter in romantic interest Jake (Michael Boumenot), who says, “That psychopath Michele Bachmann pulled it off, why not you?”
Historical flashbacks are cleverly woven throughout the show. The first takes us to 1631 Jamestown, when hemp was such a major crop that King James I forced all colonists to grow it or go to jail while they “tried not to die” of the plague. A flashback to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson reveals that Jefferson overcame his writer’s block while drafting the Declaration of Independence by breathing in the fumes of a hemp fire. Washington and Jefferson sing a delightful duet (“Independence Day”) while getting stoned.
The birth of marijuana prohibition is explained in the funniest and most poignant flashback. Business tycoons William Randolph Hearst, Lammont du Pont, and Andrew Mellon find their fortunes threatened by hemp, so they devise a plan to destroy the entire industry with a smear campaign. They decide to use the Mexican name “marijuana,” because Americans already know that “hemp” and “cannabis” are harmless, useful crops.
Mellon (who, when confronted with the prospect of a clean-burning fuel declares, “If I can’t create any pollution, well, then I can’t get an erection!”) appoints his future nephew-in-law Harry Anslinger (Holsen) to be the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Hearst, du Pont, Mellon, and Anslinger sing the catchy “Devil’s Harvest” as they develop a propaganda campaign to convince America there is a new and dangerous Mexican drug to fear.
Director Nancy Edwards’ high-energy romp is anchored by its talented ensemble. Davis effortlessly portrays both male and female characters; she is equally convincing as stoner Megan and an old, white (“and probably rich”) male judge in the 1930s. From his congenial British kingpin character, THC, to his emasculated portrayal of Harry Anslinger, Holsen shows an impressive range. Caywood is charming throughout the show, from his smarmy pizza guy to well-educated Rick to a flute-playing Thomas Jefferson. Boumenot’s Jake is the most grounded of all of the characters, and his Andrew Mellon is delightfully offensive.
In the dynamic final number “Get On The Canna-bus” (“next stop is liberty…”) Tammy gives a preview of her upcoming political campaign with sound bites including, “Read my lips: puff, puff, pass,” and “We’ve got nothing to fear but stems and seeds!” Earlier this year, a full-length version of “Yes Weed Can” ran at Planet Ant Theater in Detroit (where co-writer Handlon is Artistic Director; Moyer previously held the position), which may explain why the ending feels like it could be the end of Act I. The audience is definitely left wanting more, but they can let their imaginations run wild with possibilities for Tammy’s future. Deciding she’s going to “figure out how to run for Congress” is happy ending enough for her.
As is the style of the Second City comedy theater in Chicago, this Los Angeles production is performed on the permanent set at Second City Hollywood with few props and a keyboard accompanist (Musical Director Chad Krueger). Don’t expect to see good dancing, but do expect to be thoroughly entertained from start to finish by this outstanding cast. Like a nice Sativa, this show will improve your mood and give you the giggles, and at a trim 50 minutes, it’s tempting to go back and enjoy it again and again.
“Yes Weed Can” Book and Lyrics by Shawn Handlon & Jaime Moyer; Music by Mikey Brown; Directed by Nancy Edwards; Musical Director Chad Krueger; Assistant Director Allishia Knotts; Stage Manager Mikey Hann. At Second City Hollywood, 6560 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028, (323) 464-8542; Tickets $10, http://www.laughstub.com/; Thursdays at 9pm through April 23, 2015. Running time: 50 minutes.
Photo Credit: Joe Funk