Rocky Mountain News - November 29, 2002

'Reindeer' returns with twist

By Lisa Bornstein, News Theater Critic
November 29, 2002

After a four-year absence, Jeff Goode's apostatic comedy The Eight: Reindeer Monologues returns to the Theatre Group with a twist.

There's a cast of four (instead of the usual eight), and they're all women. Women playing men, women playing women, women turning in some terrific performances.

Goode's adults- only play gives a sort of E! True Hollywood Story spin (and it may be time to call a moratorium on that spoof genre) to Santa and his none-too-merry unit of transportation. There's a crisis at the North Pole, with Vixen claiming Santa raped her and the reindeer team divided over royalties. One by one, they step forward with their views on the mess.

A variety of reindeer personalities are on display here, but they all share a resentment of Rudolph, the "deformed" reindeer who moved to the front of the line that fateful year.

The macho Dasher (C. Kelly Leo) usually had the lead spot and has resumed his position. Cupid (Jessica Austgen) is the only gay reindeer - make that the only openly gay reindeer. Prancer (Karen Slack) has taken on the nickname Hollywood since she starred in a Hollywood movie. "At least I wasn't made out of Play-Doh and brown felt," she sniffs, throwing a dart at that other reindeer movie.

Some of the characterizations are wonderfully inventive and comic. While Prancer is a rather predictable Norma Desmond type, Jadelynn L. Stahl plays Blitzen as a Queens housewife, converted to feminism and passionately defending Vixen. "Why are we treated like livestock?" she asks and points out the hypocrisies of Santa, such as skipping Third World countries to cut costs.

Leo and Stahl provide the liveliest, most vivid portraits. As the helium-voiced former ballerina Dancer, Leo somehow puts a new spin on the role of the ditz. Stahl, already powerful as Blitzen, tops herself as Vixen, a sexy, sophisticated reindeer savaged in the media.

T. Marc Stevens' lighting and TDA Design and Production's set give the show a polish and focus. Steven Tangedal and Nicholas Sugar co-directed the play, and it feels as if one directed the comic aspects and the other the dramatic. The sudden shift in tone from raunchy humor to gender politics doesn't serve the play or the audience; something far subtler is required.

Lisa Bornstein is the theater critic. or (303)892-5101