Queen's University Journal - December 1, 2005
[Issue 23, Volume 133]

A darker side of Santa Claus

Theatre Preview: The Eight: Reindeer Monologues @ The Wellington St. Theatre

T O P   S T O R Y - By Samantha Lee, Staff Writer
If you’re looking for a play that will imbue you with that warm, joyful Christmas spirit, The Eight: Reindeer Monologues probably isn’t for you. However, if you’re unfazed by a description of a drunken Mrs. Claus attending a Christmas party dressed only in gold body paint, pasties, and a strategically placed elf, you might want to consider checking out this play.
The play—presented by Theatre Kingston, written by Jeff Goode and directed by Luke Davies, Tim Fort, and Craig Walker—is a dark comedy that reveals the sleazy side of Santa Claus, who has been accused of sexual assault by one of his eight tiny reindeer. As the title suggests, The Eight is told in the form of eight monologues, each one by a different reindeer: Dasher (Kristian Bruun); Cupid, “the only openly gay reindeer” (Mark Purvis); “Hollywood” Prancer (Bruun), who wants to exploit the shocking events by making a movie about them; Blitzen (Megan Deeks); Comet (Luke Davies); Donner (Purvis); Dancer (Marni Van Dyk); and Vixen (Emma Hunter), the victim of the story. Some of the reindeer defend Santa Claus as the “living saint” whom everybody loves, while others give less flattering portrayals of the jolly old elf. As each reindeer tells his or her side of the story, the audience receives more details of the crime and a different perspective on the situation.
The set is minimal and includes several fake pine trees, a desk and chair, white sheets representing snow, and a miniature Santa’s sleigh and village. The actors all wear reindeer antlers and black noses, but are otherwise dressed as their characters would if they were people. There is little interaction between the characters onstage, and most of the action of the play takes place in the monologues: the most physical scene in the play is the amusing end of Prancer’s monologue, in which he acts out his pitch for a buddy movie starring himself and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Santa Claus defending the North Pole against invading Cubans.
The structure of the play and the minimal set means its success hinges entirely on the performances and delivery of the actors. The actors who play multiple parts deserve particular praise for believably creating two distinct characters, but all of the actors do excellent jobs bringing to life the unique personalities of the reindeer. Especially funny were Megan Deeks’ Blitzen—a tough feminist who gets in some great one-liners while exposing Santa’s dark secrets—and Comet, played by Luke Davies. Comet is a naïve, troubled reindeer who has tattoos of snowmen and Christmas trees on his arms, and who credits St. Nicholas with saving him from a life of crime. The humour in these characters lies in their familiarity: these are exactly the attitudes and opinions that we would expect to hear when a sex scandal like this emerges. Except that they’re coming from reindeer.
In fact, the funniest moments in The Eight come from the incongruity between the mundane and unpleasant subject matter and the fanciful setting. Things that may never seem amusing in an everyday context become hilarious when placed at the North Pole. The novelty of subverting a beloved myth makes the sex-based humour much funnier than it could possibly have been if it concerned ordinary people.
The level of subversion present in The Eight cannot be exaggerated: nothing is innocent in this play. Santa is a pervert, Mrs. Claus is a lush, Rudolph is mentally challenged, and reindeer sex is described often and in detail. Many of the jokes work by virtue of sheer shock-value. The end result is very reminiscent of a Christmas episode of South Park.
There is, however, a strong moral underpinning the inherent absurdity of the premise. The play strongly criticizes those who cling to tradition at the expense of the safety and well-being of individuals. This can get a bit heavy-handed at times and weakens the final monologue delivered by Vixen, because the play seems almost to start to take itself seriously and forget that these are reindeer, not real people, who are speaking. In doing so, some of the inherent comedy in the juxtaposition of setting and subject matter is lost. Generally, however, the more serious undercurrent works very well at creating tension between the reindeer and giving dramatic backbone to a comedic play. The Eight: Reindeer Monologues runs until Dec. 10. If you’re skeptical of all the Christmas cheer going around and want to see what really lies behind the veneer of toys and tinsel—or if you just want an entertaining reprieve from studying for exams—you’ll find it quite refreshing. But be forewarned: it’s hard to get that image of Mrs. Claus out of your head once it’s there.