Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati Enquirer - Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

`Reindeer' tries to do too much, runs aground

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Eight: Reindeer Monologues is gleefully un-P.C. holiday entertainment in which, one at a time, Dasher, Dancer, Donner, Cupid and the rest bear witness in a Rashomon-style tale of Santa and Rudolph.

A dark social and political satire, it has the strong whiff of the Washington, D.C., low-jinks we've been enduring for more than a decade. Playwright Jeff Goode sends the action to the North Pole to ask: What really happened?

Queen City Off Broadway returns to Reindeer after a successful holiday run at Plush (upstairs at Carol's on Main) in 2001 but with far less happy results.

I've been consistently impressed with Lyle Benjamin's smart, low-budget work with Queen City, and expect I'll continue to be. But he goes wrong with this revival, beating us over the head and dragging us where Mr. Goode more wisely wished to lure us along his path with tickling clues and outrageous humor.

Mr. Benjamin opens the show as embittered lead reindeer Dasher. He's too much, too soon, in our faces instead of setting us up.

What's best about Monologues comes in the second act. Gina Cerimele-Mechley charmingly reprises her role as dingy Jewish reindeer princess Dancer and Curtis Shepard returns, too, as a bad buck saved by jolly old St. Nick.

Matthew Pyle joins the cast in the pivotal role of Rudolph's pop Donner. It's a chilling solo but on opening night he hadn't quite locked his characterization.

The show is over-produced. Too much fancy trim, too loud taped music, and what's with the wooden low-rises that look like they were picked up from the back of a supermarket? They add nothing to the blocking and, in fact, are a hazard to actors and audience.

Warning - Major Plot Point Giveaway: I don't normally do this, but Mr. Benjamin's choice is so egregious it has to be addressed. The finale is a tough, vulnerable, defiant statement by Vixen, the doe who is vilified for making a statement about the Biggest White Man of Them All.

Mr. Benjamin returns to the stage to play the role in drag. He might have gotten away with it if he'd pulled up a well of emotion and delivered the powerhouse finale, but he doesn't even try. He's a drag cliché and his choice is an insult to Mr. Goode's intent (and to every victim, individual or minority group, who ever has been turned into a villain for speaking out.)

The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Queen City Off-Broadway, 825 Main St. (upstairs at Carol's on Main). 651-2667.