Conceived in 2018, “Reindeer Sessions” has had multiple developmental readings in New York City over the years featuring such Broadway luminaries as Alex Brightman, Andrea Burns, Andy Karl and Stephen Pasquale. When Ulloa was approached by Human Race leadership about his new work, he knew the organization would be a great fit for the premiere, especially since they successfully mounted the world premiere of his debut play “26 Pebbles” in 2017.
“The Human Race is so wonderful at being an incubator of brand-new work,” says Ulloa, a New York City-based actor, playwright, librettist and screenwriter who appeared in the Human Race’s 2008 production of “Shenandoah” and the original 2015 Broadway cast of “On Your Feet: The Story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan. “The Human Race loves premieres and original work. They’re not going to give you the 17th revival of fill-in-the-blank musical. They’re going to give audiences new, exciting works (including) stories from New York. Their shows do what theater does best — they put a mirror up to the audience and allow the audience to find themselves in it. I also see this play as being the ‘Wicked’ of ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ — you think you know the story, but you really don’t know the story.”
Emily N. Wells, Human Race artistic director, praises Ulloa’s reinterpretation of the familiar within a completely fresh context.
“Eric has created a funny, imaginative twist on a story that many people know and love,” Wells says. “This story packs an emotional punch that is so satisfying in a holiday show and provides a few delightful surprises along the way.”
‘An intense amount of humanity’
The humorous “Reindeer Sessions,” presented in 90 minutes without intermission, marks a change in tone for Ulloa compared to the dramatic “26 Pebbles,” which spotlighted the community of Newtown, Connecticut in an exploration of gun violence and was written in a style similar to “The Laramie Project.” However, he was mindful to make Blitzen’s story relatable in its humanity in order for the audience to grasp the depths of his disgruntlement.
“I wanted to write a story with an intense amount of humanity about a reindeer, this man, who breaks and what broke him,” Ulloa says. “This is really a story of parents and their children and what we do to our kids without realizing it. There’s something about the holiday season that naturally makes all of us really reflective. It just happens psychologically. I felt if I could write a comedy that also brings up themes that we can all find ourselves in, it could tap into something deeper than a reindeer sitting in therapy.”
In addition, Igor Goldin, who staged “A Christmas Story” and “26 Pebbles” for the Human Race, returns to Dayton after directing the recent Carnegie Hall concert of “Austen’s Pride.” The cast features Yellow Springs resident Teri Clark Linden as Dr. Arbor and Dayton native Rico Romalus Parker as Blitzen.
Parker, seen last season in the Human Race’s regional premiere of “Barbecue,” says he immediately felt an emotional connection to Blitzen when reading the script for the first time.
“I understood what it meant for him to be looked at as successful while having an internal view of yourself that doesn’t measure up to other people’s expectations,” Parker says. “I could not be more on purpose with this role at this time.”
He’s also grateful to be able to originate a role, especially since his non-traditional casting opens up possibilities for more diverse representation in Dayton.
“This role is a dream come true, especially in my hometown,” Parker says. “In my earlier years, I always felt like in order to be accepted in a theater community I needed to go somewhere else. I actually didn’t see myself in ‘Reindeer Sessions’ based on limiting beliefs I carried with me through my career up to that point. But I always wanted to originate a role, to take a character and say this is what he looks and sounds like. So here I am and it’s real.”
‘Dayton is a great place to learn’
Ulloa arrived in Dayton last week to join the cast and artistic team in rehearsals. He’s excited about the play’s potential but is aware the journey will be fluid.
“We have plans for a future for this show, but we will take what we learn from this production and see how the play evolves,” Ulloa says. “We also want to learn what we want to do with the next iteration of it. I want to get this play into the licensing world as well. It’s a play that can be done anywhere.”
He will also attend the entire opening weekend of performances in order to quickly gauge audience perspectives and fine-tune the script on the spot.
“There is safety here,” Ulloa says. “Dayton audiences are very smart and savvy, but they aren’t waiting with knives to dissect the show right away like in New York or Chicago. Dayton is a great place to learn.”
Credit: THE HUMAN RACE THEATRE COMPANY
Credit: THE HUMAN RACE THEATRE COMPANY
HOW TO GO
What: “Reindeer Sessions”
Where: Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St., Dayton
When: Dec. 13-23; 7 p.m. Dec. 13, 19, 20; 8 p.m. Dec. 14, 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23; and 2 p.m. Dec. 16, 17 and 23
Tickets: $10-$53. Two sections of $20 seats are available at any time through the box office. Also, ten $10 rush seats are available 90 minutes before any performance.
More info: Call 937-228-3630 or visit www.humanracetheatre.org
FYI: Special Nights at The Loft: Parent’s Day Out: Saturday, Dec. 16 and 23 at 2 p.m. with theater workshops available for kids ages 5-12.