Jerry Sandusky. The Ohio State Band Director. Bill Cosby. Men, who from most accounts, are almost saints until someone comes forward with accusations so heinous they divide the community. Jeff Goode, the playwright of THE EIGHT: REINDEER MONOLOGUES, has written a thought-provoking piece about this type of scandal only he’s set it at the North Pole. Santa has been accused of sexual abuse by one of his reindeer. Who knew a show about a rapist Santa Claus would be so thought-provoking?
No, seriously, I went in thinking this was going to be some goofy dark comedy in the vein of EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL or DEBBIE DOES DALLAS: THE MUSICAL, the kind of thing that Falcon Theatre has had great success with in the past. I honestly expected to hate it and thought I would have trouble writing an honest review. Instead, this is one of the most brilliant pieces of theatre I’ve seen this year.
I know why this show was marketed the way it was; the idea of Santa Claus being accused of rape makes people uncomfortable. NO FREAKING DUH! That’s the point. This is not really a comedy, though there are some very funny elements. But this is a timely metaphor full of social commentary and has a point of view. Shows like THIS is what I hope Falcon Theatre can become known for because they have the talent in their ranks to pull it off.
Each of the “elite 8” reindeer tells their side of the story, mixing in some incredibly funny, sweet, and sometimes bizarre biographical information Some of my favorites:
- “Cupid,” fiercely played by Mike Fielder, practically jumps off the stage with charisma and insight. This is where we first start to see what kind of sexual secrets the North Pole culture has hidden. His monologue is the most bawdy; thankfully the show doesn’t stay in this lane for long, as funny as it is, but instead builds as it goes. Fielder is very funny, very good, and makes some very brave choices.
- There’s Terry Gosdin as “Comet,” a redneck lost-soul whom Santa put on the straight and narrow. He’s a Santa Claus-apologist more than any of the others and Gosdin’s natural Alabama accent gives the character . . well, character. He also mines every laugh from the script with his timing and commitment. I think the script may actually call for this to be an African-American actor, but I like how director Tara Williams and Gosdin collaborated on this monologue.
- Lisa Dierkes (“Dancer”) is a bubbly, air-headed former ballet instructor who also happens to be Jewish. She is hysterical; I laughed every time she took a dramatic pause to collect her thoughts (she has a lot of them for such a ditzy reindeer). This is a very talented actress; she’s gotta be smart to play this dumb so well.
There’s also Eric Day as “Dancer,” the lead reindeer and militaristic commander of the team, AJ Ford as “Hollywood” (otherwise known as “Prancer”) who is still bitter about his movie career not being what he had hoped. Linnea Bond plays “Blitzen,” an angry lesbian who believes every man is inappropriate with her. There’s some really strong writing in these three scenes.
The strongest part of the show, though, is the dramatic conclusion tag-teamed by David Levy as “Donner” and Leah Strasser as “Vixen.” Levy’s character is an everyman, motivated by the need to take care of his family, and guilty and broken down over essentially accepting “hush money” to keep Santa’s secrets. His monologue is heartbreaking and Levy’s got an everyman quality about him that makes him so endearing. You just want to hug him; he brings out the empathy in all of us despite making some difficult – and consequence-filled – decisions.
Strasser is the perfect finale. We’ve seen what she can do on stage this year from her outrageous performances in SERIALS! at Know Theatre, her dramatic, sad, and suicidal veteran in BUCKEYE, and her hilarious British real estate agent in ALL NEW PEOPLE. She’s a master of the funny F-word, only as “Vixen” in this piece she gets to use it not for comedy but for power. As the victim accusing Santa Claus, she’s on trial for her own sexual past. Victim shaming happens to reindeer, too. She’s marvelous and commands the stage. As I told her after the show, I’m running out of adjectives to describe her abilities. She might be our cities best young actress.
This is a very good show from top to bottom. Director Tara Williams told me that they only had three rehearsals before tech-week and that much of the work was done individually by this cast. Some of them could have used one or two more, but for the most part there are some very strong performances. Williams stages it simply on a provocative manger scene and builds to the climax nicely from scene to scene.
I would strongly encourage you to see this show; while its set at Christmas and features holiday theming, it’s not the usual festive fare. Go see A CHRISTMAS CAROL for that. THE EIGHT: REINDEER MONOLOGUES is an important piece about social issues and it’s one that will leave people talking for some time. It just happens to be set around Christmas and with powerful results.
THE EIGHT: REINDEER MONOLOGUES runs tonight and again next Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Tickets and more information can be found at http://www.falcontheatre.net.