REVIEW: “Reindeer Sessions” Delivers Huge Laughs at Human Race Theatre

By Emily Clemenson

Reindeer Sessions at Human Race Theatre Company is a must-see this holiday season. This world premiere of Eric Ulloa’s refreshing take on a classic Christmas story will leave you laughing as you re-examine how Rudolph’s heroic tale must have felt to the other reindeer who had worked so hard to earn their place on Kringle’s team. Sure to become a Christmas staple in the future, now is your chance to be among the first to see it. 

The Plot

The show follows Blitzen during court-ordered therapy sessions after he assaulted a certain red-nosed reindeer. We watch as his therapist, Dr. Arbor, helps him work through his anger over a number of months through peeks into a handful of their therapy sessions. Blitzen, in turn, helps Dr. Arbor recognize relationships in her own life that could use attention and repair. The show ends on a hopeful note without drawing concrete conclusions, allowing the audience to decide for themselves what the future holds for each of the characters.

While the opening monologue provides a plausible explanation for Santa’s existence, the colorful language and references to drugs and alcohol mean that this is definitely an adult take on a well-known Christmas tale. So leave the kids at home, or better yet, plan to attend one of the Parents Day Out performances. During Saturday matinees, kids ages 5-12 are welcome to attend an acting workshop in the rehearsal space, free of charge, with the purchase of an adult ticket to the show. 

Reindeer Sessions at Human Race Theatre. Credits: Rico Romalus Parker as Blitzen; Teri Clark Linden as Dr. Arbor
Reindeer Sessions at Human Race Theatre. Credits: Rico Romalus Parker as Blitzen; Teri Clark Linden as Dr. Arbor. Photos: Scott J. Kimmins

The Actors in Reindeer Sessions

Rico Romalus Parker shines – no pun intended – in the role of Blitzen. He breathes a refreshing element of reality into the story we all know from the song and movie. We feel his agony as he explains how hard reindeer have to work to be chosen to pull the sleigh, the (ahem) adult pastimes that fill up the other 364 days of a reindeer’s year, and what happened on that foggy Christmas Eve after Rudolph was asked to guide the sleigh. (Spoiler: as Blitzen puts it, “we did NOT all shout out with glee!!”) Throughout the show we watch him grow and mature as he has breakthroughs that help him manage his emotions and make healthier life choices. Starting the show in ripped jeans, a hoodie and a scowl, he ends with a Christmas-colored button up shirt and bright eyes. Parker is a Dayton native who has worked in theater, television, and film all over the country.

Teri Clark Linden is brilliant in the role of Dr. Arbor. She patiently listens while Blitzen works through his actions and reactions, asking thoughtful follow-up questions with a soothing voice – and when she is triggered by a line of questions, her hilarious snap catches everyone off-guard. She also serves as a narrator, opening the show with a monologue that sets the scene and explains the reality they are living in, and orienting the audience to the passage of time via an appointment summary spoken into a voice recorder. Linden gracefully walks the line between steady storyteller while also exhibiting character growth and authentic emotions and reactions. Linden is a hometown hero, living in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Reindeer Sessions at Human Race Theatre. Credits: Rico Romalus Parker as Blitzen; Teri Clark Linden as Dr. Arbor
Reindeer Sessions at Human Race Theatre. Credits: Rico Romalus Parker as Blitzen; Teri Clark Linden as Dr. Arbor Photos: Scott J. Kimmins

The Production

The show is set in Dr. Arbor’s counseling office, which is a simple yet effective set designed by Jeff Heater, where every piece has a purpose and the rest is left up to the audience’s imagination. The costumes, designed by Ameera Ansari, are inconspicuous, yet show off the characters’ growth and transformation throughout the months that pass during the show. 

Eric Ulloa’s script is a perfect mix of hilarity and thoughtfulness. His long-standing partnership with director Igor Goldin presents the characters in ways that are inherently relatable to the audience while embodying the vision of the playwright. Goldin allows Blitzen to really inhabit relatable discomfort as he confronts the choices he has made and the emotions that drove him to those actions. The audience resonates with his frustration about a coworker taking credit when it is undeserved, receiving unwarranted criticism, a gentle yet embarrassing rejection from an ex, trying to live up to a parent’s expectations, and navigating tricky family dynamics between parents and their adult children.

Woven between these relatable, emotionally-driven themes, there are stories about Kringle Enterprises’ stellar PR team, personality quirks about the other reindeer, and the truth behind other classic Christmas songs. 

Overall

This play is about more than a disgruntled reindeer. It’s a story about reflecting on our past and identifying our emotional triggers. It’s about how children can thrive when they are supported by their parents – or parental figures – and about how it is never too late to repair relationships. It is also about humanity, with our shared accomplishments, flaws, expectations, and emotions. What better place to mount the world premiere than Human Race Theatre Company. 

Tickets to Reindeer Sessions

Reindeer Sessions runs through December 23 at the Loft Theatre in downtown Dayton. The show runs about 95 minutes without an intermission. Tickets are still available but selling fast. Purchase tickets online, or in person at the Dayton Live box office inside the Schuster Performing Arts Center.