It's holiday time again, and theater fans are, for the most part, being offered the same old fare. There's always A Christmas Carol, the Rockettes, and The Nutcracker to get you in the spirit. But what if you're looking for some laughs? Christmas comedies--good ones, at least--are often in short supply. Fortunately, the Stage Door Acting Ensemble of New York is bringing some hilarious (if warped) Christmas cheer to the stage with The Eight: Reindeer Monologues.
Suggestive Christmas tunes play over the loudspeakers as the house lights go down. There's a moment of silence, and then the lights come up on a lone reindeer who says: "My name is Dasher. First reindeer. From day one. 'Number one from day one.' I been makin' the Christmas run longer than anyone except the fat boy himself. I've been the reindeer, every year, for as long as reindeer could fly. So I don't have to put up with this shit."
Dasher is a brooding, handsome reindeer; a born leader. He is head of 'The Eight,' the elite group of reindeer who do the yearly Christmas run with Santa Claus. He is being interviewed in a media blitz surrounding a breaking story that Santa himself has been very naughty. "That man has been a walking, talking, holly-jolly sex crime waiting to happen for years now," we learn from Cupid, who speaks next. All of the reindeer share their individual thoughts on the furor and reveal what has been going on behind the scenes all these years. Eventually, they give us the full story of Santa's implication in a terrible sex scandal.
As Linda Stein of the Stage Door Acting Ensemble explains, "Eight reindeer get up and each tell their story of the experience, their relation to Santa, how they got on board, what their history is. One's a lesbian, one's gay, one's an old stoner that was put in rehab by St. Nick. One's a Jewish reindeer who didn't know that this was a Christmas gig."
Obviously, there's a lot more to Santa's reindeer than what we've learned from the Rudolph story. "This is more of a black comedy," says Stein. "It's funny, but not sort of 'ha, ha, ha.' Some of it gets a little weird. It's kind of uncomfortable, and you don't know whether you're supposed to laugh. So it balances on the edge sometimes."
Written by playwright Jeff Goode in 1994, The Eight debuted at the Adobe Theater in New York City and has become a wintertime favorite at many regional theaters across the country. The Stage Door production offers a slew of excellent performances under Bradford Cover's direction.
Because it consists of eight monologues delivered by reindeer, there is a temptation to make the show rather campy. But Stage Door's artistic director, Michael Stebbins, says the company wanted to work against the overt silliness of the concept and did so, in part, by toning down the look of the show. For example, the actors are dressed in clothes befitting their characters' personalities, wearing only antlers to indicate their reindeer status. (Andy Wallach's antler designs, unique to each reindeer, are very well done.) The reindeer sit in a single chair set on the stage, speaking to the audience as if they were being interviewed.
Prancer, also known as 'Hollywood,' considers himself a big star since his self-titled movie came out. He sits coolly, wearing sunglasses and expressing his dislike for Rudolph, the reindeer who gets all the glory: "I just hate him. I don't hate him, I hate his movie. That claymation piece of crap just about ruined my career. Did you see it? God, I hope not. I look terrible." Of course, Rudolph has become catatonic ever since the 'incident' with Santa took place.
Hearing about the seedy goings-on at the North Pole is intrinsically funny, yet there is an undeniable seriousness to the piece because of the topic it deals with. Explaining why she thinks little children really stop believing in Santa Claus, Blitzen states: "Any psychiatrist will tell you, this kind of irrational denial only comes in the face of a reality too horrible to even think about: The reality that a jolly fat pervert is comin' to town." Part of what Goode is doing here is satirizing this kind of hysteria in an age of political correctness. Still, one can't help but think that, if you took the antlers off the performers, you would have here a surprisingly insightful drama on the subject of sexual abuse.
If you want to get the goods on "Saint" Nick and his not-so-merry reindeer, The Eight plays through December 22. It's holiday fun for the dysfunctional family - but you should probably leave the kids at home. For more info about Stage Door, click here to visit their website, www.stagedoor-ny.org.
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