Des Moines Register - December 16, 2002

Reindeer make show click, click, click

By Jody Crossman
Register Staff Writer

When it comes right down to it, how much do we really know about that jolly fat man they call "Santa Claus"?

Maybe not as much as you think. Just ask the reindeer.

Known here as "The Eight," Santa's reindeer are back and dishing all in AriesWorks Entertainment's production of "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues." It opened at the Vaudeville Mews Thursday night and runs through Sunday.

If you're looking for a theatrical holiday treat for the kids, leave them at home. "The Eight" is strictly for adults.

Why? Maybe it's because Jeff Goode's bitter comedy shows a side of Santa that no child should be subjected to. It's a seamy look at the underbelly of Christmas.

"The Eight" is a dark and wickedly funny look at life in the North Pole as told by the famous "eight tiny reindeer." Seems Santa Claus has gotten himself into a bit of a sex scandal involving one of the does, causing the rest of the reindeer to take sides.

While "The Eight" provides audiences with a bitingly perverse look at one of the most beloved holiday characters, it's also a moving piece of theater, teaching us that maybe things aren't always as they seem.

I saw this show last Christmas when AriesWorks staged it at the Beaverdale Social Club and feared this one would be the same production.

I was wrong.

AriesWorks has managed to reinvent the twisted little tale with new staging, costumes and fresh talent that's hard to resist.

Kicking things off, maybe even funnier than he was last year, was the lead reindeer, Dasher, played by Steve "The Round Guy" Pilchen. While his performance is laced with obscenity, it seems fitting for this reindeer who carries a bit of a grudge.

Pilchen isn't the only bright star in this production. Returning actor Jeffrey Campbell plays the "only openly gay" reindeer, Cupid, giving a rioutous performance that's both over-the-top and a little sadistic.

Newcomer Tom Geraty as Hollywood (the reindeer formerly known as Prancer), and returning reindeer Aaron Smith as Comet are excellent character actors in this show.

Where the buck stops (pun intended) in this production, is with James Serpento's rendition of Donner, guilt-ridden father of Rudolph.

Serpento has infused new life into this character he's played before, with not only a new look, but a whole new attitude. His performance might furrow the brow, but it will also make you giggle, albeit a little guiltily.

It wouldn't be fair if I were to overlook the talented does in this production.

All newcomers to "The Eight," Susan Barnabo is the militant feminist Blitzen, Stephanie Fravel is the true-to-her-name Dancer, and the unforgettable Vixen is played by Meredith Rensa.

They give spectacular depth to such a dark, thought-provoking tale. It's hard to imagine, but they somehow managed to steal the show from the talented bucks.

With the opening of the Vaudeville Mews just a few weeks ago, AriesWorks has found an ideal location to stage its productions. The space is open and vast yet perfect for the type of shows this up-and-coming company produce.

With enough space for a real stage, and lights and sound, the Mews looks to be a premiere location for good theater.

So if you're tied of watching the "Rudolph" reruns on TV this Christmas, turn off the tube and make your way to "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues." You won't be disappointed.