Reefer Man's High Times
The breakaway success of Canada's annual Fringe Festival was The Reefer Man, a moving one-man show about a young lawyer whose love for marijuana and skill at growing it leads him through a variety of adventures and relationships.
The Fringe Festival is a travelling mix of eclectic plays and performances that hits most of Canada's major cities during a lengthy summer tour.
In "The Reefer Man," Russell Bennett gives a virtuoso solo performance, taking on over two dozen characters as he plays out the rise and fall of ganjaphile Charlie Kovacs. From getting high for the first time to having his buds win the Cannabis Cup, from being busted and jailed to reconciliation with his estranged father, the audience is taken through the highs and lows of Kovacs's life in an authentic, well-written, powerful story.
The nature of the tale allows Bennett and his director/co-author Gillian Stevens-Guille to weave in numerous references to current events throughout the story. At the Vancouver showing, characters in the play mentioned recent court decisions, Marc Emery's incarceration and the raids on the coffeehouse Da Kine.
The story is emotionally compelling, but also educational. Bennett teaches his audience about the harms caused by prohibition, and its racist origins. At one point Kovacs summons up the spirits of Canada's first anti-pot warriors, suffragette Emily Murphy and Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King, and questions them as to their mindset and motives.
After his first Vancouver performance, the last stop on the tour, impassioned audience members threw cannabis offerings at the grateful actor. "It was a magical evening," said Bennett. "A dream came true – that I do a good enough performance to experience a shower of joints and bud onto the stage! What a night!"
"The Reefer Man" won "Pick of the Fringe" in almost every city that it performed. "I'd love to get this play into New York," said Bennett. "The script can easily be reworked to reference U.S. history and events. I think many Americans need to see this show."
Despite his play's hit status, Bennett was threatened with expulsion from the festival if he continued his extremely pro-pot ways. Bennett had been giving out gifts from his sponsors at the end of each show, and one of those gifts had traditionally been a phat nug from Da Kine. Bennett said that Fringe officials told him he would be "kicked out" if he didn't stop handing out the free bud.
Bennett also produced and directed "Stoned: Hemp Nation on Trial," a 1998 documentary about the trial and legal challenge of Canadian cannabis activist Chris Clay.