When a doe says no, she means no.
Or so says Blitzen, the fourth reindeer of eight in Neptune Sushi’s production of The Eight: Reindeer Monologues. Lovers of holly, sleigh bells and the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” need not attend; the production premiering this weekend will be far juicier than your cookie-cutter holiday theatrical production, filled with sexual harassment accusations and tales of corruption at the North Pole.
But if you’re into dark comedy with a “twisted sense of humor,” you’ll probably react how Hannah Heckman-McKenna did when she first read the play: “This is the most screwed up thing I’ve ever read, and I love it,” she said.
Heckman-McKenna, who plays Blitzen, thinks that a lot of people will enjoy the production because it offers something different. “I think a lot of people, as they get older, find that Christmas is a very commercial holiday. It doesn’t always mean what it should mean,” she said.
And that’s why Director Aaron Foss chose to produce this alternative show. Ghostlight Theatre produced it a while ago, he said, but the production hasn’t spent much time in New Hampshire.
At the beginning of the show, audiences know this: Vixen has accused Santa of sexual harassment. The audience plays a group of reporters trying to find the truth through eight reindeer confessions, starting with Dasher and ending with Vixen. Eight actors perform the eight reindeer in the song (minus Rudolph, but we’ll get to him later), each of whom will be dressed as the reindeer “character” adorned with antlers. (Blitzen, for instance, will be dressed as a protester, with worn jeans and a T-shirt.)
Dasher starts. He’s a muscly “headstrong” reindeer, Foss said, and for him, Christmas comes before anything else. He has led the crew every year — except for that one, foggy Christmas; it’s not a great subject to bring up with Dasher.
Cupid, on the other hand, is the only openly gay reindeer. His monologue follows Dasher’s, and unlike the first reindeer, he feels very passionately about this issue. He plans to go on strike, even if it is a few days before Christmas.
Prancer, aka “Hollywood,” is the “troubled starlet,” Foss said. Prancer’s personality has changed since the release of his movie and the launch of his acting career. (Don’t mention Rudolph to this reindeer, either.)
Blitzen is the outspoken feminist reindeer. She led the walkout on Santa Claus.
“She has just had enough. Santa is playing the victim, and she’s not having it because she knows that he’s a predator,” Heckman-McKenna said.
Blitzen is disgusted with the ways in which Santa runs his crew, from the “pervert” behavior to the sleigh bells the reindeer are forced to wear every year that “sexualize” the reindeer, according to Blitzen. The role wasn’t difficult to get into, as Blitzen’s personality is very similar to her own, Heckman-McKenna said. Whenever she wants to capture the spirit of this feisty, feminist deer, she likes to read news or stories that make her angry.
She provides juxtaposition against Comet, a reformed convict who has been Santa’s biggest advocate and supporter since the Claus family took him in.
Then there’s Dancer, a naive, Jewish ex-dancing reindeer who joined the Eight, and Donner, Rudolph’s father and an unemployed herd deer. Rounding out the eight is Vixen, the one who has pressed charges against Santa. She wants to take him down, but her reputation (just look at her name!) might get in the way.
Throughout each monologue, you hear more and more about this “foggy Christmas scandal,” moving closer and closer to the truth as each reindeer takes the stage.
The show’s structure is different from most plays; there is no interaction between characters. In each monologue, the actor is the only person on stage. In rehearsals, Foss will work with some of the actors individually, whether out in a parking lot or in a restaurant, but the opening night will be something new for audiences and cast members alike.
“Sometimes it can be harder, because it’s just you, but sometimes it can be easier. There’s no back and forth with anyone. The approach is very different and very self-involved, and you have to keep your own energy up,” Heckman-McKenna said.