The website of playwright Jeff Goode (www.jeffgoode.com) sports not only the customary list of plays he's written but also a list of the productions of one play, The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, that's simply enormous: over 300 productions nationwide since 1994. If it's impossible to know with perfect accuracy which plays are the most produced in the United States, certainly Goode's play—in which Vixen the reindeer accuses Santa Claus of sexual harassment—ranks among the top contenders.
So why would Phare Play Productions—an Off-Off-Broadway group that was formed only eight months ago and therefore must find ways to distinguish itself from the legions of other theatre companies in New York City—choose to mount it?
"We chose it because it's fully intended for entertainment value and also because it's thought-provoking," says Blake Bradford, the company's resident director and co-artistic director with partners Christine Vinh (who doubles as business manager) and Wayne Yeager (who triples as technical director and facilities manager). "A lot of our pieces so far have been a little darker, so we thought it was time for something fun. But the script is a nice mix. In addition to Vixen accusing Santa of sexual harassment, all eight reindeer are really very opinionated. We've even noticed the script reeks of things like Iraq, which happened long after Goode wrote it. It's also very 'he said/she said,' very much of the Clinton era, when it was written. We also fell in love with the piece because of our base of actors."
It's a base that Phare Play has developed with great speed, especially for a group of modest means. The company's goal seems to be about doing a lot of work in a compressed period of time, and exploring a multitude of styles and subjects to put itself on the map. One weekend in October it offered two plays by Bradford, Gay Slave Handbook and The Last Cloud, and then the following weekend mounted Doug Wright's Unwrap Your Candy and Brad Fraser's terror-inducing Snake in Fridge. For actors eager to dig into new plays, Phare Play also produced a brief run of Inside Carl's Shorts, six one-acts by Carl Williams.
The focus, Bradford notes, is especially performance-oriented: The set for The Eight is "very minimalist. What's important is conveying not just the humor but how much darker it becomes as it progresses. The last monologue, for example, is Vixen's, who details how Santa raped her. There are great comedic elements up to this moment, but also an undercurrent of something else. We have a picture of Santa on which someone scrawls 'Never again.' There's more going on than you'd think."
There's also more going on at Phare Play than you'd think. For example, the group recently signed a five-year lease on a 99-seat theatre that formerly belonged to the Producers' Club, which they have renamed the Lodestar Theatre. There, Bradford and his team plan an ambitious slate for 2007, including Howard Richardson and William Berney's Dark of the Moon, Shakespeare's The Tempest, and Catherine Butterfield's Snowing at Delphi. There will also be a playwright-in-residence, Bill Svanoe, whose play Callback—"a love letter to the theatre"—opens Dec. 27 for a three-week run featuring the playwright's wife, actor-director Joan Darling.
Darling is one of Phare Play's prime supporters, and her involvement is one of those benefit-from-who-you-know situations that stage folk pray for. After a stint in the 1960s improv scene and appearances in Off-Broadway and Broadway productions, Darling went on to become one of the first prominent female directors in TV history, placing her mark on the wacky 1970s sitcom Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Thanks to Darling, Bradford is next directing a series of scenes featuring two Mary Hartman alumni, Louise Lasser and Greg Mullavy, as part of the Food for Thought series at the National Arts Club on Dec. 19. What better way to call attention to Phare Play's game plan?
"The name signifies participation on equal terms—about an ensemble," Bradford says. "Everyone has an equal say. There is a captain of the ship—the director, the producer—of course, but there is no dictator. We believe in getting everyone involved."
The Eight: Reindeer Monologues runs Dec. 11–23 at the Lodestar Theatre, 358 W. 44th St., NYC.
Tickets: (212) 352-3101 or www.theatermania.com. Website: www.phareplay.com.