November 20, 2008
WINSTON-SALEM -- As it turns out, those reindeer games aren't at all what we imagined, and the North Pole is actually a hotbed of scandal.
Or at least that's the case in Jeff Goode's black comedy "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues." Vixen accuses Santa Claus of sexual harassment (and worse!), and as each reindeer provides his or her side, the details of the case are revealed "Rashomon" style.
A staged reading of the comedy opens tonight at the Theatre Alliance.
"I was in Chicago when I first wrote the show in 1993," says the playwright in a phone interview from his Los Angeles home. "It was written about a very specific incident, and I thought it would quickly become dated -- I mean, there were references to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Who knew he would still be famous in 10 years? So to have productions now in Idaho, in Korea, in New Zealand... it's very surreal."
The idea of presenting a black comedy during the holidays instead of the more traditional Christmas plays was also new 15 years ago.
"At the time I wrote it, everything in December was so cheerful I think people were a little tired of it," says Goode. "Writing about these eight reindeer was easy since their names make their personalities come to life. Dancer, for example, was a hoofer -- or she had been, but there's not much work for old dancing reindeer, so now she's fond of a martini. And so on."
The human natures revealed by the reindeer team show, for instance, that Dasher is still bitter that Rudolph achieved fame for working on just one foggy Christmas Eve, whereas he leads the sleigh every $#*%! year. Prancer was bitten by the acting bug after starring in a movie, while feminist Blitzen is using the event to push her own radical politics. Oh, and Mrs. Santa has been known to overindulge in eggnog.
"What attracted me to the material?" says Theatre Alliance artistic director Jamie Lawson. "What's not to like about foul-mouthed, promiscuous reindeer and scandal at the North Pole? How enticing."
"I could have written a strictly fact-based satire, but people would have recognized it too soon and missed the whole point," Goode says. "But by writing about Christmas archetypes -- everyone has the exact same visual of Rudolph, for example -- I can explore the idea of what happens when a powerful person you like is accused of something horrible."
Goode, who began his career as an actor, found himself in a new career when he began writing monologues, scenes and plays for his friends to perform, first at the University of Iowa, then in Chicago.
"I could work my ass off struggling as an actor," he explains, "or I could make a living sitting on my ass."
He has followed "The Eight" with a series of dark holiday comedies (his "Seven Santas" is being presented by the Actor's Theatre of Charlotte this season), but there's also "Marley's Ghost" and "Marley's Christmas," two plays with the Victorian flavor of "A Christmas Carol." And in addition to comic mysteries starring hotel detective Dick Piston, he has written "new" works by Shakespeare such as "Lear's Labour's Lost."
He's the creator of the Disney animated series "American Dragon: Jake Long," and he was Broadway Play Publishing's Playwright of the Year in 2006 and the recipient of a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award in 2007. A composer also wants to write an opera with him. "The juices are cooking," he admits.
"It's exciting to write something and have it develop a life of its own and travel to places I've never been," he says. "But even more, it's great to think of people coming to see one of my plays because they had such fun at the last one."
Leslie Mizell is a freelance contributor. Contact her at LAMizell@aol.com.