A reading of The Caitlin County Hemp Wars at Boston Playwrights Theatre in November of 2008.
When liberal congressmen like Barney Frank begin co-sponsoring bills with libertarians like Ron Paul, there must be something funny in the air. That stench — according to activists, agriculturalists, and economists alike — is the manure that Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials have fed Americans about industrial hemp for decades, which has resulted in policies that allow for hemp to be imported, but not ones that let suffering American farmers cultivate it themselves.
Coincidentally simultaneous with the landmark (and fashionably dubbed) Paul-Frank proposal — which would lift senseless restrictions on industrial-hemp farming — local playwrights Terry Crystal and Don DiVecchio are rolling out their five-years-in-the-making musical, The Caitlin County Hemp Wars, for one night only at the Zero Arrow Theatre in Harvard Square. Their motivation is simple: banning non-psychoactive hemp because of stigmas regarding its genetic cousin marijuana is like banning bananas because of Ron Jeremy.
"It's outrageous that something so potentially useful is illegal to grow in the United States," says Crystal, a Boston University librarian who first became interested in hemp as a functional material while studying at Rhode Island School of Design more than a decade ago. "It's ridiculous, and you just have to wonder why."
Crystal and DiVecchio didn't have to manufacture their dramatic angle. The fictional Hendricks family of farmers in Hemp Wars turns to the forbidden plant as a means for survival, and in turn, get crop blocked by DEA agents, who, like in real life, cite federal prohibitions to ride roughshod over farmers in the four states where it's legal to grow hemp.
The musical was actually inspired in part by a Boston Phoenix article. In his 1998 story "Where's the Hemp?" author John E. Dvorak lambastes the United States Navy for replacing 60 tons of cannabis hemp rigging on the USS Constitution with synthetic sails and cordage. The larger notion in his commentary, though — much like that of Hemp Wars — is hemp's plight in America, which reads like a twisted capitalist conspiracy.
Since the production premieres in Harvard Square, the room will likely be filled with bespectacled liberal activists in loose clothes. But considering the affection that both farmers and hipsters have for hemp, this production is as universal a gesture as legislation proposed by a Newton Democrat and a Texas gasbag.
"Sure, our musical is about hemp," says Crystal. "But it's also about three generations of community and family trying to maintain."
The Caitlin County Hemp Wars will premiere Tuesday, May 5, at 7:30pm, at the Zero Arrow Theatre, in Harvard Square. Tickets are $20. For more information, visit caitlincounty.com.