Juneau Empire - December 13, 2007

The sins of Santa

'The Eight: Reindeer Monologues' explores a darker side of Christmas


Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
  Dash away all: Cast members practice a dance number lead by director Alicia Hughes-Skandijs during rehearsal of "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" on the Second Stage at Perseverance Theatre.
Don't expect candy canes and prancing elves in the Christmas play "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues," because it's not your typical holiday fare.

"It's monologues from the reindeers in the wake of this sex scandal at the North Pole," director Alicia Hughes-Skandijs said. "It's eight monologues, one from each of Santa's reindeers, and as the show progresses you're kind of building to this conclusion of, 'They're not saying what I think they're saying, are they?'"

A preview will be held at 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14, on Perseverance Theatre's Second Stage in the Douglas theater's Phoenix Room. The show officially opens at 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, and closes on Sunday, Dec. 23. All performances are pay as you can.

The show offers a different point of view of what could be going on in the North Pole and examines the darker side of the neatly packaged commercial holiday, Hughes-Skandijs said.

"Instead of just doing a show that has Christmas in it, it's looking at what point does Christmas get out of control, like the idea of Christmas," she said.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
  Clint Farr practices his character, Comet.
And in "Reindeer Monologues," Christmas gets totally out of control. How out of control?

Santa Claus is accused of raping one of his reindeer, Vixen.

"Ultimately this play is about how society deals with harsh issues, and today how the media exploits stories for money, and how people are unwilling to break out of the box and look past the exterior and recognize what is really going on," said Rebecca Burrous, who plays Vixen.

People tend to focus too much on the public persona of many people and will often look past the content of someone's character, even when it's all spelled out right in front of them, she said. Some people just simply don't believe that a president could lie or that a priest would ever harm a child.

"Nobody wants to accept the ugly things that people can do, which anybody is capable of, even these people in prominent positions," Burrous said. "It's hard to accept, but I hope after watching it that they're willing to think for themselves."

People don't want to accept the fact that Santa could be less than his reputation has built him up to be because he delivers presents to the world, she said. But in the play, the reindeers know of Santa's unsavory side because they have unfettered access.

"People don't want to accept things like that; they'd rather just cover it up and gloss things over, so that they can keep going on with their lives and not have to change," Burrous said.

The director says the play is indeed thought-provoking.

"I think it will just make you think about Christmas in a whole new light, which can be a good thing," Hughes-Skandijs said.

The play, written by Jeff Goode, has strong language and adult themes that may not be suitable for everyone. Breaking an iconic character such as Santa Claus out of his traditional role could be uncomfortable for some, Hughes-Skandijs said.

"I understand that anything that goes against tradition, like Christmas - I know it's bound to offend people," she said. "But if you look at it, it's a pretty solid show, and in the end it's trying to make you think and trying to make you laugh."

"Reindeer Monologues" is Hughes-Skandijs' directorial debut at Perseverance Theatre after studying the craft at the University of Alaska Southeast. She said she wanted to enhance the experience for the audience by casting an ensemble of actors that have different levels of experience.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
  Hughes-Skandijs gives feedback to an actor during rehearsal as actors Rob Kindred, right, and Nick DeHart wait their turn.
"I looked for people in the community who I haven't seen before, but it's been different because we have first timers and people with more experience," she said.

All the actors bring heavy emotions to the complex characters they portray, she said.

"Each reindeer has a strong personality," she said. "No two reindeer are alike."

The director's brother, Corin Hughes-Skandijs, has been cast to play Prancer, also known as Hollywood. The complexity of the characters adds to the comedy because they are so absurd, he said.

"He's sort of a sad character in a way, because he's so sad and bitter but masks it with arrogance," he said of his character.

The director's sister, Kirsa Hughes-Skandijs, plays the role of Dancer; Wesley Brooks plays Dasher; Nick Dehart plays the role of Cupid; Ambrosia Rose is Blitzen; Clint Farr is cast as Comet; and Rob Kindred plays the role of Donner.

The depth and depravity of some of the characters will surprise and delight the audience, Burrous said.

"Some of them were drunks, some of them were lost souls, and Santa Claus really gave them an opportunity to be able to take care of themselves and their families, and plus they all get to be part of Christmas," she said.

Although it's a comedy, the play takes you to places and brings up themes that are not necessarily considered humorous in all circles, Corin Hughes-Skandijs said.

"It gets dark, especially at the end," he said. "It ends on a darker note."

This might mean the play isn't for everyone, Burrous said.

"People need to come with an open mind and be willing to push past those boundaries," she said.

• Contact Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.