(As we grow here at the World of Champagne, we want to give you more information about great performances and artsy events in the area, even if they don’t involve our Grand Empress herself. You’ve probably already noticed our “Local Arts & Theatre” bar as well as announcements about shows and events taking place in and around the Grand Cities. To this end, we hope to offer more in-depth coverage, including profiles of people working to bring you high quality entertainment like the profile of Miranda Roen of Roen Photography whose photos appear in the photo galleries section as well as reviews of shows and events. We’re kicking off this coverage with a review of The Eight: Reindeer Monologuesat the Firehall Theatre. Janessa was invited to sit in on the last rehearsal before curtain up by the show’s director, Nicole Quam, featuring 5 of the show’s 8 monologues. Yes, this review will probably include what some people call “spoilers.” Deal with it. And enjoy!)
Vulgarity. That’s probably the first thing you’ll notice about The Eight: Reindeer Monologues. Even before the actors begin revealing their stories, it hits you: the show opens with the hilariously dirty Jackie Beat’s “Santa’s Baby,” a perfect warm-up to the sharp-tongued speeches to come, one from each of Santa’s 8 reindeer, the ones who used to call Rudolph names and wouldn’t let him join in the reindeer games: Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. Rudolph himself doesn’t appear, except as an occasional image on the projector screen; he’s convalescing somewhere after going into a catatonic state, some claim because of memories of his abuse at the hands of old St. Nick. Santa, it seems, has struck again: the shows picks up after the alleged rape of Vixen as each of the 8 gives their perspective on the situation, including Vixen herself. Each reindeer in turn emerges as a uniquely drawn character, and none shy away from seedy subjects like sex, drug and alcohol use, sadomasochism, crime and all of those other delicious vices that really give the holidays that extra sparkle. When they advertise this show as 18 plus, they aren’t kidding.
Some people may get caught up in the vulgarity or choose to be offended at the show’s unabashed and unapologetic use of adult language and situations, and that is a great loss to their own viewing experience. To do so is to miss the real “smarts” of the piece: RM has a lot to say about sex, gender, and sexuality in our culture, especially now after an election year where every other day saw some new Republican asshat stepping out of the shadows to give his (white, rich, heterosexual, non-vagina-possessing) opinion about what rape is (in case you missed it, it was always something horrifying and offensive). Behind the 4-letter words and ribald humor are actually very sharp commentaries about how communities and individuals handle scandal and allegations of abuse or rape, how victims can be blamed in order to preserve the sacred image of a community “hero,” and how well-meaning people can turn away from something terrible and wrong in order to preserve their own self-interest.
On the surface, each of the reindeer is a sort of caricature, but a smartly done caricature with more than a predictable message. Comet, played by Howie Korsmo, is a reformed criminal given a second chance by Santa Claus’ beneficent spirit. He refuses to believe that Santa Claus could be guilty of such a heinous crime; to believe that would be to destroy the entire mythology of Christmas. For Comet, only one version of Santa can be true: either he is a pervert, or he is a savior. Even as Comet acknowledges that Santa may not always take the feelings of the reindeer into account he legitimizes it by saying that it wasn’t Santa’s goal to make the 8 happy but rather to make the world happy. He apologizes for the hometown hero, truly believing that the ends justify the means. As a former criminal, he would face the same judgement from society: either he is a criminal or he’s a “born again” soul, one worthy of respect and compassion. The notion that human beings are rarely so simple, that one can be both the hero and the villain in different ways at the same time, has no place in this worldview.
Blitzen, played by Amy Driscoll, is as quick to condemn Santa Claus as Comet is to apologize for him. Embodying every stereotype of lesbian militancy, right down to the flannel shirt and rough Brooklyn accent, Blitzen is one angry reindeer and lets her rage pour forth onto the stage. She’s every man’s worst Fox-News-endorsed nightmare of what that dirty F-word (*gulp*-Feminism) does to a woman, and yet as her story develops, you can feel the pain hiding behind the rage: her anger at Santa isn’t just about the rape, but rather about the betrayal of trust, the abuse of his ultimate power as a figure of joy and generosity for children the world over (well, the developed world at least), and at the way his position gives him immunity (after all, how could such a pillar of the community do something so terrible? Ring any bells, Jerry Sandusky?). She is the reindeer that most keenly feels the limitations of her gender, and while much of this monologue is steeped in second wave rhetoric, she is also the reindeer who most clearly asserts that Santa’s behavior is wrong on principal, and she’s not afraid to take down a major international holiday to prove her point.
Cupid (Casey Paradies) and Dancer (Rachel Horton) both have somewhat lighter monologues comparatively, and it would be easy to dismiss them as mere comic filler if they didn’t have moments of real emotional power. Cupid is every inch (pun intended) the stereotype of flaming queerness, bursting with overt sexuality and witty repartee (his caustic humor is noted in several of the others’ monologues as well), but he is also completely self-aware and self-actualized. No self-hating queer here, dearie. He is also the most willing to accept Santa and the other reindeer as complex human beings (or anthropomorphized talking deer – whatever): he compares their team and Santa and Mrs. Claus to a dysfunctional family, recognizing that Santa can be both sexual predator AND the hero to millions of children. Dancer’s monologue places her in the role of the witness who refuses to see: she dismisses strange noises, ignores the whispered rumors. After all, she NEEDS this job, and she’s had it tough too, you know. At first, she seems to really be oblivious to the darker side of the North Pole, and is self-involved almost to the point of being unlikable: at one point she compares the discrimination she felt as an ostracized reindeer ballerina to the Holocaust in a joke that is carried on ALMOST too long. Her moment comes toward the end of her monologue, recounting an experience with Santa and Donner in the toy shop: as her story reveals how close she came to being one of Santa’s victims, the audience watches her almost break through into the truth of the experience only to push away. We see what she has lost by choosing to remain oblivious, by choosing silence. She leaves the stage lamenting that she just wants “to dance again.”
Vixen’s monologue was the most powerful for me. Vixen (Therese Borkenhagen) is unabashedly sexual, and at the same time she embodies the consequences of being sexually liberated in our culture. Much like Comet, who must navigate the binary construction of criminal or saint, Vixen is caught in the middle of the ages old virgin/whore dichotomy. Unlike Comet, who clings to the saintly end of his binary, refusing to believe that Santa could be the monster the other reindeer make him out to be (because to recognize this duality in Santa would require him to recognize it in himself), Vixen resides in the middle or even outside of her conflicted nature: she recognizes that her sexuality calls her character into question, not because such a question is valid but because society invalidates the perspectives of women who choose not to follow “the rules.” She turns all of that familiar “blame the victim” language around and hurls it back at her accusers. She must have been asking for it. How can someone who is so sexually liberated and so admittedly promiscuous claim to be raped? If she didn’t fight him, doesn’t that prove that she wasn’t raped? Behind Vixen’s sultry demeanor is real rage, even more potent than Blitzen’s earlier rant about Santa’s perversions.
In the end, Vixen still refuses to place herself into the limited space of a binary definition: she chooses not to press charges and to escape to Florida to live her own life on her own terms. To pursue punishment would be to allow others to define her: either as the “ultimate victim” (she balks at the protest slogan, “Remember Vixen”) or as “the wench who stole Christmas.” To quietly retreat does permit Santa to continue his activities mostly unquestioned (though Blitzen represents, among other things, an organizing presence that certainly has the momentum to push forward even without Vixen as their representative martyr) but it also allows Vixen the ability to retain her right to self-definition. She can avoid the questions and interrogations, strangers researching and discussing and evaluating every facet of her history. She recognizes the cost, that women and children in the world are no safer (and perhaps even more at risk) because of her actions, but she chooses self-definition over sacrifice for the sake of the community.
The Eight: Reindeer Monologues has a lot to think about, but it is also a very good time. If you’ve had as much ho, ho, holiday cheer as you can stand and you’re ready to cram those ringing bells down Jimmy Stewart’s throat, then you won’t want to miss this naughty little stocking stuffer. It runs Fri & Sat nights for the next two weeks (Dec 7 & 8, 14 & 15) at 10 pm at the Firehall Theatre in downtown Grand Forks. The show also features performances by Hyrum Patterson, Daniel Dutot, and Jeffrey Weatherly. Tickets are $8 (only a buck per reindeer!) at the door.
(Let us know what you think about this review in the comments section. If there are upcoming events or shows you’d like us to announce or cover, you can post them to the Champagne Dreams Productions Facebook page – just follow the CDP tab on this site! – for review.)
Tags: Amy Driscoll, Casey Paradies, Champagne Dreams Productions, christmas, Daniel Dutot, Firehall Theater, Firehall Theatre, holiday, Howie Korsmo, Hyrum Patterson, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, Jeffrey Weatherly, Naughty Christmas, Nicole Quam, Rachel Horton, Reindeer Monologues, The Eight, The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, Therese Borkenhagen