Adults-only show at The Grand puts a new spin on Claus family

Posted Nov. 29, 2010, at 7:07 p.m.

Meet Dasher, a militant survivalist with a Rambo complex. Meet Cupid, who’s openly gay and proud of it. Meet Prancer, who has delusions of Hollywood grandeur. And on second thought — don’t meet Rudolph. His nose may be bright, but he definitely isn’t.

Yes, they’re Santa’s reindeer. But they’re not the relatively banal creatures you know from the traditional songs, stories and films; they’re eight individuals, each with its own ax to grind. They’re the characters in a new holiday production set to go up for one night only at The Grand in Ellsworth this Saturday. “The Eight Reindeer Monologues” is a hilarious, for-adults-only retelling of the story of the reindeer and their Santa.

Director Jason Hodgdon, who also plays Dasher, picked “The Eight” because it’s a lesser-known holiday play that’s in keeping with the season — but is still, at its heart, a dark comedy. “The Eight,” written by Jeff Goode, has enjoyed successful runs all over the world ever since it opened in 1994 in Chicago. Hodgdon’s show will be its first production in Maine.

“It’s a dark comedy, that’s not really very heartwarming at all. But it’s definitely a Christmas show,” he said. “Each reindeer represents some kind of American stereotype. It’s for people that have that kind of sense of humor about the holidays. I say, if I haven’t offended somebody in the crowd, I’m not doing it the right way.”

The basic plot imagines that Santa isn’t the jolly old fellow we all know him as — rather, he’s a cranky workaholic with a penchant for women. Mrs. Claus has been known to put a bit too much rum in her eggnog. Rudolph is a company stooge who gets all the glory. Surprisingly, Santa, Mrs. Claus and Rudolph aren’t in the show, but are talked about at great length.

Santa’s lecherous side gets him in a bad spot when Vixen, played by Jennywren Walker, a Portland-based actress, sues him for sexual harassment. The reindeer each tell their side of the story. Comet, played by longtime Ellsworth-area actor Arthur Morison, is a recovering alcoholic who credits Santa with saving him from a life of vice. Donner, played by Portland stand-up comedian Troy Pennell, is Rudolph’s father and must explain his son’s various failings. Blitzen, played by southern Maine comedian and actress Michelle Violette, is an ardent feminist who wholeheartedly supports Vixen’s cause. Brent Askari as Cupid, Burke Brimmer as Prancer and Sara Sheppard as Dancer round out the cast.

“Each monologue has its moments,” said Hodgdon. “Even though some of them are kind of dark, there are moments in each that have these huge bursts of laughter.”

Hodgdon returns to acting and directing after working with comedian Bob Marley for most of the last decade. Marley is co-producing “The Eight,” in fact, through his Pork in the Beans Productions. Though the cast has been rehearsing in Hodgdon’s Falmouth home for the past few weeks, Hodgdon knew he wanted to stage his Maine directorial debut at The Grand.

“I grew up on MDI, so The Grand is kind of like my home theater,” he said. “I love this production, and I knew I wanted to have my first show in this long be there.”

“The Eight Reindeer Monologues” will be performed at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, at The Grand in Ellsworth. Tickets are $21.50, and the show is recommended for mature audiences. For information, visit www.grandonline.org or visit Pork in the Beans Productions on Facebook.

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