Las Vegas CityLife - Friday, December 6, 2002

Friday, December 06, 2002

Theater And Dance

Reindeer droppings: Teatro Angst's anti-holiday play will convert you to Santa-ism

Vixen (Jodi Hunt Jackson) gives her version of what happened the nights before Christmas in The Eight: Reindeer Monologues.

By Anthony Del Valle

Midnight productions of plays are popping up all around the valley in the hope, producers say, of attracting younger audiences. But by now it's clear that these cut-rate, cut-quality shows may be doing more harm than good.

Take Teatro Angst's current The Eight: Reindeer Monologues. It's shallowly conceived, badly staged, monotonously performed. What's really disconcerting, though, is not the show's faults, but the reason for them: an obvious lack of rehearsal. Director Bob Blomgren seems to be saying, "Hey, this is just a midnight show, so we don't have to worry about practicing much, or taking time to probe the layers of the script, or making the performance space an organic environment. Those dumb kids will never know the difference."

The 1993 script by Jeff Goode (mistakenly listed as John Goode in the program notes) is a Christmas play for those who are sick of Christmas plays. The premise is simple. Eight of Santa's transportation team react to the news that their boss may have raped Vixen and Rudolph. The disturbing, sketch-like material builds its laughs around the idea that the reindeers are each exaggerations of character types (Dasher [Brian Gressley] is the blue-collar worker; Prancer [James Perham] has gone Hollywood; Blitzen [Merrill Williams] is a hardened feminist). As usual, Goode - whose last play seen locally was Poona the Fuckdog and Other Plays For Children - writes intermittently amusing dialogue, but tends to shoot at too many thematic targets. Given the right kind of improvisational feel, though, The Eight can be enjoyed for its novel approach to holiday cheer. It's an antidote for those of us who long ago OD'd on A Christmas Carol.

Blomgren's first mistake is setting the play in a bar and allowing most of his cast to recite their lines in a drunken stupor. This triples the cynicism in Goode's script, and it proves a fatal dosage. Worse, Blomgren doesn't get much variety in tone from his cast. Actors tend to just keep repeating the same attitudes. Their movements are frequently aimless and halfhearted. They don't seem to have the confidence that comes with adequate rehearsal time. You don't sense that these characters belong in this bar - the actors don't have a genuine relationship to their physical environment. You get the impression the cast worked out their roles on their own, and the director simply prayed it would all come together. By the time the 48-minute production is over, you feel exhausted, anti-cynical and eager again for A Christmas Carol.

If midnight productions like this continue to be so half-assed, they will become counterproductive. Instead of offering young people a taste of the excitement of live theater, they may drive their intended audiences away forever. Better to not do these shows at all than to do them so badly. It may shock some directors to learn that even young audiences have taste. They deserve the respect of a polished performance.

Teatro Angst's The Eight: Reindeer Monologues plays midnight Fri.-Sat. at the Nevada Theatre Company, 2928 Lake East Drive. Tickets: $5. Info: 702-873-0191.

Copyright 2002 Las Vegas City Life