Why Hallucinogens? Why Not?: Sniedze’s Medicine Show


According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, more than half of high school students have experimented with drugs. The conundrum for teens, then, seems not so much whether or not to abuse substances, but which substances to abuse. (The same survey elected marijuana and inhalants prom king and queen, while heroin had to eat lunch alone.) Yet once upon a time in the ’70s, according to the performance piece The Dilemma of Drugs, the issue was actually fraught.

Director Erik Sniedze has unearthed a cache of eponymous, alarmist educational film strips, bearing subtitles such as “Pot, Pills, and Parents” and “Why Hallucinogens?” Sniedze screens them as actors perform the voice-overs verbatim. While stills of outré ‘dos and junkies choking on their own vomit unspool, kids and grown-ups narrate in retro slang. Fear not, a glossary is provided. (Schoolboy means codeine, Dolly methadone. Who knew?)

On the whole, Sniedze has instructed his actors to keep their camp habits in check. Exempt is Jenn Harris who gives an unrestrained turn as an artsy chick on a bad trip; bad trips are inherently camp, especially when they’re precipitated by a mustachioed guy named Phil handing you a tab and saying, “Let me show you the world you’ve been missing.” Even drag king Murray Hill plays the role of a cantankerous doctor fairly straight. While Jack Ferver infuses his parts with rent-boy longueurs, Lisa Jolley, who plays the teacher and provides the folk songs, makes the biggest hit—particularly her grim instructions to “settle, people, settle,” a command the cocktail-fueled crowd delightedly ignores. You could dare to keep these kids from enjoying this Dilemma, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

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