December 11, 2009
The author Jeff Goode (rhymes with food) has another play, a take on the famous "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" letter called Yes, Svetlana, there is a Grandfather Frost, in which a cynical journalist in Soviet Russia is asked to defend the Soviet Santa. "They are all fables for children. Opium for the masses. A flimsy excuse to be kind instead of vicious for one day out of the year." I guess one anti-Santa work wasn't sufficient for this author.
In The 8, the elite reindeer who pull Santa's sleigh pause in their pre-Christmas Eve drinking and one by one step forward to justify, testify, attack, confess, understand, share, or explain "the real story" of the apparent horrors and sordid goings on up North. Accusations are made against Santa of poor working conditions, rape, and child abuse; against Mrs. Claus of sexual harassment, drunkenness, and generally inappropriate behavior; against the elves for looking the other way; against each other as The 8 divide into pro- and anti-Santa camps. Some of it is funny, some of it is harsh and ugly. Some walks that fine line between stupid and clever.
As written, most of these reindeer are paper-thin stereotypes, and it is a tribute to the fine acting skills of Dysfunctional Theatre Company that the cast flesh them out as well as they do, adding humanity to these caricatures: the macho idiot, the cranky butch activist, the greedy Jew, the media whore. Standout Danaher Dempsey brings grace and depth to the hysterical squealing queen Cupid. Robert Brown is terribly moving as Donner, a conflicted sellout who made a horrible decision about his disabled son Rudolph and now is paying in guilt and shame; Peter Schuyler is hilarious yet extremely touching as the burly former gang member (Hell's Herds) Comet turned straight by Saint Nick, poignantly unwilling or unable to face the ugly truth about his savior. The selling point of this play for me is Rachel Grundy as Vixen, the slutty starlet. Unabashedly sexy and strong, her story, though an old one, is one that needs to be told-don't blame the victim. She gives it to us straight, like a real dame in an old movie, with movie star looks and style to match.
But I was still left with a question: why? Why pick on Santa? Why make him out to be not only a bestial rapist, but a bestial handicapped child rapist who pees down chimneys, randomly chucks dead deer onto rooftops, and is into harnesses? Why pick on rape victims and their defenders? I'm glad the important, disturbing, horrible topics of rape and child abuse and the lesser tragedy of fallen idols are broached in this production, yet I left the theatre feeling a great need for Christmas cheer. This is a solid production, but not a joyful one.
Don't get me wrong, there are some very funny moments-Dysfunctional Theatre Company's mission of "challenging the status quo without taking itself too seriously" is met. Still, it's easy to be jaded and contemptuous, remaining hopeful and open-hearted can be a much greater challenge. Maybe that's the magic of Christmas, the one part that no cynic or circumstance can take away. At any rate, that's what this Virginia still believes.