Chicago Reader - Friday, December 1, 2000
CRITIC'S CHOICE - THE EIGHT: REINDEER
Some like their holidays light and sugar frosted. And for them the mainstream provides all manner
of gooey treats--in the theater, in the movies, and on TV. The rest of us have to depend on such
fringe groups as the Stage Actors Ensemble to deliver shows like Jeff Goode's acid-tinged The
Eight: Reindeer Monologues. In this witty one-act Santa's a lech, Mrs. Claus is a drunk, and
the eight tiny reindeer are as catty and cutthroat as any corporate team. Prompted by a sex
scandal that threatens to tarnish Santa's image, Santa's reindeer spill their guts one by one to the
audience, revealing in hilarious detail all the north pole's darkest secrets, including the fact that
Rudolph was horribly deformed and severely mentally challenged. The beauty of this script is that
it doesn't require an expensive set or a perfect cast. So what if your light cues are a little off, as
they were the night I saw this production? So what if some of your reindeer seem miscast (Donald
Wolfgang Dodge, for example, is not glamorous enough for the Hollywood-spoiled Prancer)? If
you happen to have a few gems in the ensemble like Kenneth Johnson, Candra Chavda, or Christa
S. Trinler, or if director James Bagnall has a few new ideas for staging the play, so much the
better. And if you don't, the thing flies anyway. Performance Loft, Second Unitarian Church of
Chicago, 656 W. Barry, 773-529-8337. Through December 9: Fridays-Saturdays, 10 PM. $10.
Chicago Reader - Friday, December 15, 2000
CRITIC'S CHOICE - THE EIGHT: REINDEER MONOLOGUES
Two weeks ago I recommended the Stage Actors Ensemble's production of Jeff Goode's one-act exposé of Santa's workshop, a cesspool if there ever was one.
The production was funny, the performances ranged from pretty good to great, and Goode's script, as usual, was outstanding.
But that staging pales by comparison to the version currently being performed by the Journeymen.
Cofounder Frank Pullen directs, and he tackles comedy with the same originality and verve he brings to more serious fare, for which he's better known.
Where other theaters invariably treat Goode's reindeer as just a parade of funny cartoon animals complete with odd voices, Pullen takes us to a higher level, filling the play with immensely talented non-Equity actors--Jerry Hlava, David Bryson, Courtney Evans--who deliver intense, fully realized characters.
This choice deepens Goodes' comedy by revealing the dramatic subtext behind his laughs.
I've seen at least six productions of this play over the years, and this is the first time I've felt a strong emotional connection to the eight reindeer and to the moral dilemma each must grapple with when Santa is accused of sexual misconduct.
I've also never laughed harder. Angel Island, 731 W. Sheridan, 312-494-5720. Through December 23: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 and 10:30 PM. $12.