Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas! and A Review: The Eight

Before I get to the description of The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, I would like you all to understand what an amazing thing just happened. I was popping M&Ms while waiting for some music to download. Being the OCD person that I am, I was, of course, eating an even number at a time. I had four in my hand, when I looked down. Lo and behold, TWO orange and TWO blue!! I didn't even choose them! They just arranged themselves according to my preferences. It was a Christmas miracle, I'm sure.

On a sad note, which still has to do with theatre, playwright Harold Pinter has died. To be honest, I had no idea who he was until today, but he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2005, and he wrote a play that I have long looked forward to seeing, The Dumb Waiter.

Anyways, last Friday night was the last Philly RA outing. We went to dinner and then to the Society Hill Playhouse in South Philly, where they were performing The Eight for I think the third year in a row. I knew that it would be risque, to say the least, and it really wasn't that bad, except for Cupid. The premise of the play is that Santa is a horrible pervert who molests the reindeer. Some don't let him get away with it, some do and like it, and some do and are horribly scarred. Supposedly, Rudolph is no longer involved in the Christmas run because he is horrifyingly and permanently scarred from his experiences with Santa.

I know exactly what you're thinking. Comedy? Not so much. But going into the play, it does seem like it will be full of sexual humor that makes you a bit uncomfortable but is ultimately amusing. Seeing the personalities of the "deer" is very funny, and the idea of Santa as a pervert is, you must admit, not entirely alien. It is a little creepy, particularly to the young adult age group of which I am a part, that kids line up to sit on a jolly old man's lap.

Dasher, a pseudo-gangsta in a track suit with a Jersey(?) accent, mentions in passing the controversy that is the center of the play, but, as the lead reindeer, is more concerned with rescuing his reputation from the one year when Rudolph, the one-hit wonder, took his place. Cupid, the only "openly gay" reindeer, admits to enjoying Santa and Mrs. Clause's bawdy lifestyle. Blitzen, a feminist type, descries the discrimination and exploitation that takes place at the North Pole. Her character gives a hint to the later, more serious content with allusions made to a lawsuit that Vixen is bringing against Santa Clause.Prancer, whose real name is "Hollywood" apparently, has an amusing monologue on the commercialization of Christmas, and how the classic claymation Rudolph movie discriminated against any other reindeer who wanted to pursue a career in entertainment. Dancer told a sad story of her life of ballet, which was ended when the discrimination, and even racism, against reindeer in the human world became too dangerous. All the reindeer make subtle comments to the controversy caused by Vixen's accusations against Santa Clause, but none are specific. Comet, a Latino former gang member, is the only firmly pro-Santa reindeer. He claims that Santa saved him from the violent gang lifestyle and kept him on the straight and narrow. He appeals to the traditional viewpoint that Santa couldn't possibly do anything slightly perverted because he is simply Santa. Such a great institution who has done so much good in the world couldn't possibly be a menace. Donner, Rudolph's father, is the last monologue before Vixen, and he finally expounds on the strange story of Rudolph. Donner was an out-of-work herd deer, with a mentally challenged son who had no hope of acceptance. Santa, as the song says, offered Rudolph a chance to lead the sleigh on Christmas night, but in the play, he offered Donner a position on the team as well, for the high price of surrender to his perversion. Donner shakily described listening to Rudolph's screams from the other room, but defends his decision with the knowledge that his family would never have to go hungry again or feel unaccepted or unsuccessful.

The play opens firmly as a comedy, but even in the early monologues, Cupid for example, there are jokes and allusions which feel wrong. There was a point when Cupid was screaming in the most effeminate way possible about how the holidays are worse for dysfunctional families, and the audience laughed, but hesitantly. Reindeer with personalities ought to be a hilarious premise, but the jokes about Santa's sexual nature united with the stories about Rudolph's mental instability and the abuse taken by other, unknown reindeer to create a story for serious consideration.

Vixen is a young, beautiful and glamorous reindeer. She explained her situation, that she refused to stand by and let Santa do what he wanted with her, and why she spoke up, so that another Rudolph would not happen. Then, she explained why she was keeping quiet, not protesting beyond the lawsuit, which would undoubtedly be tossed out. Christmas, and Santa along with it, was an institution, and to continue to press charges would surely ruin Christmas for people all over the world. The play ends with Vixen moving to Florida, but not before she describes the ironic reception she has received as "Santa's attacker" in a profanity-laden but honest speech recalling the questions put to her in the trial. Questions concerning her sexual history and whether or not she may have 'invited' the sexual interaction with Santa.

Walking back to the car with my friends after the show, we all couldn't really make up our minds. It was something that had to be processed. We knew that it was funny at some points, and serious at others, but I didn't really know which I wanted it to be more. My friend Jon made a good point when he said that he would have been upset if they treated a subject like rape as a comedic opportunity. At the same time, the entire setting for the show, reindeer at the North Pole, is somewhat ludicrous, and it's hard not to be a little bit annoyed that I couldn't just sit back and enjoy the over the top personalities of the actors. The balance between comedy and tragedy is confusing, and even a week later, I haven't fully processed what it says about Christmas, Santa and cultural revolution (as in revolving around, not rebellion revolution) around the two intertwined.

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