The Gazette - December 5, 2002

MET's 'Reindeer Monologues': An adults-only Christmas special

by Matthew Robb
Special to The Gazette

Dec. 5, 2002

Children worldwide adore him as Santa Claus, Father Christmas, and holly, jolly old Saint Nick.

But several of his eight reindeer know the beloved gift-giver as something else: as a sexual predator.

Two minutes into the Maryland Ensemble Theatre's ongoing production of "Eight Reindeer Monologues" and a nagging thought flashed through my mind: "How do I write a play review that depicts a beloved Christmas icon as a pedophile?" New York or L.A. this isn't.

Not your traditional ho-ho-ho season's greeting, "Reindeer Monologues" arrives by way of MET's newly launched "MET-X" series, an ambitious undertaking of new plays, experimental projects, and concert musicals not ready for mainstage production.

Suffice it to say that "Reindeer Monologues" is adult theater and it is edgier than a switchblade .

Playwright Jeff Goode's play is many things at once: Brilliant and sophomoric. Wickedly funny and deadly serious. Shocking and not a little profane. (Goode's earlier works include "Portrait of the Virgin Mary Feeding the Dinosaurs.")

But its strengths are many and MET's production is fresh, savvy, and inviting.

Forget Christmas. "Reindeer Monologues" is a thinly veiled exposition on everything from stardom, conceit, and groupthink to homophobia and the psychodrama of rape survivor guilt -- all told in an outrageous, fiendishly clever, and frequently uproarious way.

As "Reindeer Monologues" opens, we find the North Pole in pandemonium, after one of Santa's reindeer (Vixen) has blown the whistle on St. Nick for alleged sexual harassment and rape.

Amid a swirl of controversy, the other seven reindeer deliver heated testimonies (or monologues) that either implicate or exonerate the man whom Blitzen assails as "a jolly fat pervert."

Some of the reindeer even incriminate Mrs. Claus as a bottle-hugging, lecherous old broad. Meanwhile, sweet little Rudolph, returned from his famed round-the-world jaunt, is now confined to a padded cell. A nervous breakdown, you know.

Eight reindeer. Eight vignettes. There's an outraged reindeer, a narcissistic Hollywood reindeer, a ranting-feminist reindeer, a flaming-gay reindeer, a motorcycle-thug reindeer. Some are shapely. Others chain-smoke cigarettes. Most pepper their language with lurid expletives. All have something powerful and funny to say in this bitingly satirical deconstruction of all things Christmas.

Tad Janes, wearing a bandanna and requisite antlers, commands the stage as the coke burnout and reindeer gang member, Comet. Melissa Powell and Lee Hebb run with their (exceptional) roles as Vixen and Cupid. Julie Herber's feminist tirade is so blistering that I actually started to shuffle my feet -- and I swear I didn't do anything! Meanwhile, Douglas "DC" Cathro, David Norman, Gené Fouché and Sean Robinson nicely round out the cast and deliver many fine moments.

Yes, this play will singe some ears. But in art, as in love, everything is fair and if theater is to remain true to the human condition, it must speak fearlessly.

If irreverent, offbeat humor is your thing, "Reindeer Monologues" is a must-see. Just be prepared to have you-know-who bypass your house on Dec. 24.

"Reindeer Monologues" is appearing through December 21 at the Cultural Arts Center of Frederick, 15 W. Patrick Street. Shows start at 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings immediately following MET's performances of "Reckless." Strong adult themes. Admission is $5, with ticket stub from "Reckless." For more information, call 301-694-4744.