If you’re looking for something different this holiday season, Pit & Balcony Community Theatre is preparing to fill your Christmas stocking with the regional premier of Chicago playwright Jeff Goode’s ‘THE EIGHT: Reindeer Monologues, a thought-provoking and carefully rendered satirical Christmas comedy that explores the dark side of the North Pole and the question of whether Santa has been naughty or nice when one of his eight reindeer accuse the jolly man in the red suit of sexual abuse and a litany of other sexual indiscretions.
While the premise of this 1995 satire from Chicago playwright Jeff Goode may strike one as shocking, he articulates this explication of personal struggle using a rare form of storytelling through a series of venison vignettes in which each of Santa’s eight reindeer deliver their own experiences about Santa’s indiscretions. When one thinks of beloved, respected, or cherished real life figures such as Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, and Pee Wee Herman, for example, who from most accounts had achieved the status of saints within the public mindset until someone came forward with accusations so shocking they divide the community, one begins to digest the brilliance of this theatrical endeavor.
We all know that Rudolph, Santa, and the rest of the reindeer are not real figures, yet they are so ensconced in tradition that while using them as a mechanism to this kind of story may seem shocking on the surface, with The EIGHT, they are used as an allegory to shed light on similarly situated real people who sit in places of power and use that power in exploitative ways, taking historically beloved fictional characters to deliver very real and relatable abuse-of-power situations.
Within this context, Rudolph exists as an underdog. With this red shiny nose he is ‘different’, which excluded him from his social group and participating in any reindeer games. He father was desperate for his son to be accepted and successful, making them both vulnerable to exploitation; an Santa is the figure that holds monopolistic power, since he is the sole provider of the world’s presents on Christmas morning.
With a cast consisting of Doc Less as Dasher, Justin Russell as Cupid, Josh Fick as Hollywoo, Brielle Myles-Williams as Blitzen, Jake Pearsall as Comet, Mary Spadafore as Dancer, Matt Kehoe as Donner, and Jennifer Rohde as Vixen.
For Trashan Donald, who makes her Directorial debut with this production at Pit & Balcony, despite the seriousness of its subject matter, the brilliance of The Eight: Reindeer Monologues is how it frames some very real and relatable topics in this day and age with a tapestry of comic relief. “This is a satire,” she empathizes, “and the comic relief comes from using these mythical and lovable characters to tell such a hard story.”
“Each of the eight reindeer have different personalities and perspectives on the situation, and some of them are very progressive and some are somewhat stunted,” she continues. “There really isn’t a lot of anti or pro Santa sentiment expressed by the reindeer, and there is one who is a pretty die-hard defender of Santa, so once each of them gets through their monologue we understand why they think the way they do.”
Trashan admits the most challenging component to this production is finding balance between the levity of humor and the heavy content of the subject matter. “Sexual abuse is a hard topic to swallow, and despite that its done in a manner give perspective to the content, it can be offensive; but with a strong enough cast those offensive points can be brought home so they hit in a way that instead of leaving a bad taste in your mouth, provokes deeper thoughts about the subject. It’s a pretty daunting task, but a brilliantly written script, especially at the points where the comic relief is dialed in.”
Trashan says auditions were strong for this production and each actor brought a personality into their reading that instantly signaled which reindeer to cast them as within the ensemble. “Each actor has one monologue an they are never all on the stage together,” she explains. “Each offers their different perspectives of the story that intertwines together.”
Elaborating about the suitability various cast members bring to their roles, Trashan begins with Doc Less, who portrays the role of Dasher. “Dasher starts the show off and Doc has this sort of alpha-male frat guy energy that he brings to the role, and wants he hits the stage audiences will understand why he is perfect this role,” she explains.
“Mary Spadafore Is a veteran actress at Pit & Balcony and in the role of Dancer brought this nonchalant almost oblivious tone to the audition that was exactly what was needed for that role, which audiences will understand once she completes her monologue. And one of the auditions I really enjoyed was that of Justin Russell, who in the role of Cupid spun a charisma and timing that was able to hone rhythmic beats of the dialogue and land the jokes perfectly. With satire the trick is not playing into the comedy, and because we just started rehearsals and considering how phenomenal the read-through was, I can’t wait to see this production all come together.”
As for costuming, all the actors will be dressed as humans but appear with reindeer make-up and antlers, along with cloves and hooves personalized to their characters. “This play is set in a therapist office so we’ll be able to stage this After Hours Production in an intimate setting, which enables audiences to really see what the actors bring to the stage.”
“This show is very thought provoking and entertaining,” concludes Trashan, “so I hope it gets people thinking of all the Santa’s in the world who might be sitting in places of power and abusing that power, or exploiting specific individuals and how relatable that is almost thirty years later in our real world.”
“In order for us to sit with those kind of thoughts, we need to present this content in a free-flowing, light-hearted, and witty manner in a way audiences can easily digest,” concludes Trashan.
“This isn’t your typical serving or holiday cheer, and we’re not playing any reindeer games.”
Pit & Balcony's 'After Dark' regional premier of 'The Eight: Reindeer Monologues will run Friday & Saturday, December 8 & 9th at 8:30 PM. TIckets can be purchased by clicking this link.
9th February, 2024