Chicago Tribune - Theater Loop - November 29, 2007

News from America's hottest theater City

By Chris Jones

Cheer is strictly optional at these Christmas shows

So who invented the dysfunctional Christmas show? You know, that anti-holiday attraction aimed mostly at counter-cultural urban hipsters who wouldn't be caught dead at the Goodman Theatre's "A Christmas Carol" or some schmaltzy radio-play version of "It's a Wonderful Life."

Beloved all over again by bloggers and alternative publications, these are the kind of shows that try to make the overly reductive case that the rest of Christmas theater is all consumerist kiddie treacle. No matter that some of these shows are now almost as old and overexposed as the shows they're spoofing. You'd have to acknowledge the contribution of David Sedaris (who, incidentally, is coming back to the Steppenwolf next month). Sedaris' "The Santaland Diaries" is one of the genre's most overplayed attractions-this year's Chicago production comes courtesy of Theatre Wit. And in Chicago, I've long had a soft spot for "Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer," developed by David Cerda and produced this year at Bailiwick.

But I'd make the case that the true Santa of the Cynical Christmas is really Jeff Goode.

("7 Santas" is on the Bailiwick mainstage through Dec. 30.)

Goode (rhymes with food) is the creator of "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues," which I first saw back in 1994, when it was produced by a long-gone but fondly remembered (by me anyway) group called Dolphinback Productions. For the next several years, I went back and saw the piece time after time. If you've not had the pleasure-and, by the way, "The Eight" is now done in scores of cities every holiday season-it consists of eight mostly miserable reindeer lamenting their miserable lives under the nasty Mr. Claus.

Goode, who lived in Chicago for much of the 1990s, has now resided for several years in Los Angeles, where he's developed an animated series for the Disney Channel. He didn't make his fortune from "The Eight." But it is, he freely admits, a nice little wage-earner. "It does pay for my Christmas presents each year," he says. "I can get my mom whatever she wants."

I've long thought this show would make a great movie. Goode said he's fielded a lot of offers over the year, but that his contract with the publisher precluded such a deal. That contract, though, was recently renegotiated. So don't be surprised if you see a big-screen version. Goode is a gifted self-marketer.

This weekend, I'm off to see Goode's sequel, "7 Santas." It's up at the Bailiwick Theatre-and also in four other cities in coming weeks. According to Goode, the piece is similar to "The Eight" (albeit with Santas rather than reindeer). "It's still that sick, twisted, North Pole thing," he says. "Except that it's even darker. I had to top myself."

So what's Goode's secret? Why do people crave anti-Christmas Christmas shows when they could just as well see a play that had nothing to do with the holidays? "People are tired of Christmas shows," Goode says. "But they still want to be in touch with Christmas at Christmas."