Dope, Defiant Theatre, at the American Theater Company. Defiant Theatre cofounder Christopher Johnson is a world-class researcher. To write his new play, which seeks to “reveal the truth about the United States’ war on drugs,” he developed a bibliography (included in the program) that would be the envy of any graduate student. Unfortunately, Johnson’s ambition outruns his ability as a playwright. He attempts to tell it all, from George Washington’s alleged marijuana use to the role that cocaine smuggling played in Iran-Contra. The result is a sprawling mess, part comedy revue full of drug jokes, part agitprop play meant to tear the mask off polite society, and part opportunity to hang with his friends and fuck around.
So where was the director when this show started careening off course? According to the program, the first director, Sean Graney, left two weeks before opening night because of “creative differences.” He was replaced by two members of the Defiant clubhouse, Johnson himself and Jim Slonina, neither of whom was likely to make the playwright focus his material. Which is a shame, because Dope contains some amazing facts. The scenes chronicling the rise of LSD use in the 60s are fascinating. Richard Ragsdale makes a wonderful Timothy Leary, half lovable professor, half sleazy con man. And newcomer Jennifer Walls turns in a remarkable performance as the woman who might have turned JFK on to acid.