Write All Nite‘s 2018 New Year’s resolution: evaluate how marijuana is depicted in movies and theatre. For instance, I’ll praise portrayals that view smoking weed as a cognitive stimulant, and I’ll lambast those that regurgitate tired tropes about stoners. Light one up, baby!
In Susan Miller’s new play 20th Century Blues — currently running at the Signature Theatre Center in a production directed by Princeton’s famed McCarter Theatre Center’s Artistic Director Emily Mann — four lifelong friends connect after too many years apart. Following a familiar living-room dramedy formula, these women of a certain age gab about their lives past, present, and present reflections on the past.
Midway through their informal soirée, one of them busts out a joint, and my eyes rolled all the way back into the deepest reaches of my cranium in anticipation of Miller once again going the trite, traditional route by having the smokers devolve into a pack of giggling nincompoops. Much to my surprise, they responded in an entirely unexpected way: by not responding at all.
Then why even include the scene? Most probably to make the following lame joke, representative of much of the aphorism-filled, heavy-handed humor here: When the only abstainer chides the partakers by asking, “When are you going to grow up and start drinking?”, one of the others claps back, “When are you going to grow up and stop?”
Whether or not you find that “joke” funny — or its truism insightful — the fact that it implicitly equates weed with alcohol, both in their effects and the nonchalant role they play in the evening, might be the most novel part of the play. More art should adopt similar approaches to both substances; characters should casually smoke without changing their behavior in much the same way they tend to casually drink alcohol throughout a play’s duration and it’s treated like an afterthought (I’ll patiently wait for an artist to equate weed with coffee; waking-and-baking is the new morning coffee).
And to be honest, this striking moment made me realize 20th Century Blues is more refreshing than my knee-jerk reaction initially gave it credit for. The conventional premise, characterizations, and overall dramaturgy might come off as tired, but at the very least, audiences rarely get to experience the nitty gritty details of self-proclaimed old(er) women’s everyday existences, warts and all — with none suffering from a severe health crisis.
Look what a realistic depiction of weed can do..