Arts and Culture

#MeToo zeitgeist gives heft to 'Reindeer Monologues'

Play imagines North Pole as an unsafe space

In a normal year, Jeff Goode’s “The Eight: Reindeer Monologues” usually plays like an OMG, what-if holiday joke: Santa Claus accused of sexually harassing his reindeer? “Ho, ho, ho!”

This is obviously not a normal year. In the current environment, where each day brings new reports of another celebrity, Hollywood director or politician brought low by charges of sexual harassment or assault, the #MeToo movement makes the play, first performed in the early 1990s, a bit more somber.

“Oh, no no: Not Santa, too!”

Emily Morrison-Weeks, who plays Dancer in Know Better Production’s current staging of “The Eight” (playing this Friday and Saturday at Broom Street Theater), is, like her fellow cast members, keenly aware of the seismic social shift now underway.

“It’s unfortunately right in line with what’s going on in the actual world,” she says. “But the comedic element this time is a little more poignant. It doesn’t feel like it’s making light of the situation. It’s making the conversation more accessible.”

In the play, Vixen’s the one who blows the lid off the inappropriate behavior at the North Pole. One by one, the remaining reindeer come forward to offer their perspectives on the situation, ranging from sympathetic and confused to outraged and hostile.

The production had two performances last weekend, and, according to Morrison-Weeks, audience members were definitely feeling the ripped-from-the-headlines vibe.

“I could feel people leaning forward in their seats this time,” says Morrison-Weeks. “Each character feels like a representation of someone who exists in the world right now.”

Director Francisco Torres amplified the human element of the play with a couple of unusual choices. For starters, the actors aren’t wearing antlers, as is sometimes the case when this show is staged. He also injected a musical element: Before each reindeer delivers their monologue, they croon a Christmas carol. As their numbers dwindle (each one leaves the stage after speaking), the songs begin to take on a darker tone. One reindeer sings Louis Armstrong’s “Is That You, Santa Claus?”—an already  creepy song made even creepier by the events of the play. Another reindeer sings an acapella version of “Christmastime is Here” from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

“That song really is a lot more melancholy than I had realized,” says Morrison-Weeks.

Somber or silly, it’s clear the show’s managed to stick the landing square in the zeitgeist. And maybe, just maybe, provide another forum to come to terms with the thorny issue dominating our thoughts, elections and headlines.

“Theater is good at providing a space that gives people permission to feel how they feel about what’s going on,” says Morrison-Weeks. “And people need this right now.”

Know Better Productions will stage two more showings of “The Eight: Reindeer Monologues,” one at 11 p.m., Friday, Dec. 15, and one at 5 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 16. The Saturday performance will feature a talkback after the show. 

Aaron R. Conklin writes his award-winning coverage of the Madison-area theater scene for madisonmagazine.com.


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