Pot party

Reefer Madness contains some of Pegasus' best ensemble work in ages

In a weird way, Pegasus Theatre's Reefer Madness rescues that film from the graveyard of camp and makes it relevant again as clumsy, throbbing, improbable tragedy. The cast members choose not to turn their outlandish roles into Silly Putty stretch-a-thons, not to shackle the material with ironic quotation marks by constantly breaking character to mug. For the most part, this Reefer Madness is played as if it were really happening in some twisted forbidden zone where marijuana drives people to suicide, insanity, murder, and prostitution. The actors perform as though they don't even realize they're being watched, which means they never show their hand, and we are left to ponder a completely sincere, crisply articulated nightmare. What makes camp entertaining, after all, is that its creation was unintended and the idea of it ever substituting reality too horrific to consider. When they don't work so hard and just let their talents rise naturally to the surface, these Pegasus actors are funny in a way that includes and ultimately transcends the merely amusing.

Reefer Madness runs through August 29. Call (214) 821-6005.

Banter

You can be the snottiest theater critic in the world, but the phrase "For Mature Audiences Only" will still send a little naughty thrill up your spine. Fort Worth's Stage West has attached this caveat on the latest production of its "Adventure Series," Quills. But this Obie Award-winning show by native Dallasite Doug Wright may not be as explicit as some dread (or hope for), says co-star Jerry Russell.

"Some of the stories I'll be telling are outrageous, but they're written in very beautiful, very high-flown language," says Russell, referring to his role as the Marquis de Sade.

Quills concerns de Sade's autumn years in the asylum of Charenton, where his wildly imaginative, erotic, sometimes sadistic stories and plays are tolerated by a gentle-hearted Abbe (Tom McNelly), who is constantly being pressured by the institution's rulers to quash them. The show is written very much as a comedy, "but it's not really camp," insists Russell. "They're theatrical, very artificial. You look at them and obviously know they're not trying to be real, yet there is reality in what they're trying to represent, you know?"

Quills runs August 6-15. Call (817)

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