"Sex, Lies, and Snow!"
"Jingle Bells--Santa Goes All The Way!"
So exclaim the posters touting the Theatre Group's seasonally smutty production The Eight Reindeer Monologues. The play promises to be a surprise for audiences expecting a traditional representation of Rudolph and friends.
This bawdy black comedy doubles as political satire--sans blue dress and cigar, but with plenty of timely ribbing at the expense of jolly ol' Saint Nick. The premise: After Santa is accused of heinous crimes at the North Pole, he and his eight reindeer are enveloped in a snow-globe whirlwind of media frenzy. The eight monologues take place in various news settings, from the desks of Nightline to the stages of Jerry Springer ("I'm Not a Ho Ho Ho"), as each victimized reindeer leaps for the chance to tell all. The deers' distinct identities seem appropriate for a Nineties setting; for instance, there's Comet, the conservative Newt-meets-Jerry Falwell character; Dasher, the jock; and Blitzen, the goth-feminist reindeer at a university protest.
Carla Kaiser, aka Blitzen, stresses that the show's unusual monologue format gives it strength. "I have never experienced anything like this, in the audience or as an actor, where a show is comprised completely of connected monologues," she says. "There's something to be said when someone can go up there alone and hold an audience's attention for eight minutes."
For three weeks, the actors rehearsed separately with director Gillian McNally in individual sessions. None of the actors saw the other pieces performed until the final tech rehearsal, which occurred only a few days prior to the show's mid-November opening.
"We were all terrified of performing in front of each other," says Kaiser. "It was just like another audition. But once we all saw each other doing our parts, we were pleasantly surprised. You'd think we would be slightly competitive, because the nature of a monologue is as a singular thing, with a singular light on one person. But we know we're a team, that we all come together to form one play, and we're very encouraging backstage."
Written by Jeff Goode, The Eight Reindeer Monologues has been playing for four years in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. The idea migrated to Denver along with McNally, and it's her local directorial debut.
McNally says Denver welcomed her warmly. "I was surprised at the number of small non-equity theaters there are here," she says. "It reminds me of Chicago. There's such a multitude of artists who make their own opportunities when no others exist. There's a passion to it. It's very exciting."
In Chicago, McNally had formed her own theater company with friends from college, and Goode was one of the resident writers. "When this show was first in workshop form, it was during the O.J. Simpson trial, where it was so evident that the media blows everything out of proportion. Now with this Clinton thing, we see it happening again and again," McNally says. "It's so hard to distinguish the truth when the media over-exemplifies everything, and it's not just the media's fault. That's one of the reasons why I agree with the writing of the script so much, because it asks the question of who is to blame.
"We were all sitting around reading the script, and it was weird how timeless it is...I think Jeff's inspiration at the time was the Clarence Thomas hearing, and it was astounding, because the writing sounds like he's talking about what's going on now."