Philadelphia Inquirer - December 4, 2002

Theater Review | Unhappy reindeer tell all about Santa

Inquirer Theater Critic

There are still three more weeks of inescapable seasonal music and advertising until Christmas, and if you're one of those naysayers who already feels an irresistible urge to strangle the little drummer boy, help from kindred spirits is at hand.

Head up to Northern Liberties and the tiny Triangle Theater, where a blast of subversive bahhumbuggery called The Eight: Reindeer Monologues offers the assurance that you are by no means alone.

Actor-director Jeff Goode's droll little piece is a truth-seeking missile aimed squarely at the copious paunch of Santa Claus and his sophisticated spinners. After all, who can shed more light on his personality and lifestyle than the eight reindeer who have to put up with him?

The Eight: Reindeer Monologues
Written by Jeff Goode, directed by Jane Stojak, Jonathan Espolin and Dennis Smeltzer, settings by Jane Stojak and Tina Brock, lighting by Bob Schmidt and Dennis Smeltzer.

The cast: Dennis Smeltzer (Cupid), Al Carabello (Dasher), Paul Bernstein (Hollywood), Amy Casey (Blitzen), Joe Chevere (Comet), Dee Freidel (Dancer), Bilgin Turker (Donner), Jane Stojak (Vixen).

Playing at: Triangle Theater, 1220 North Lawrence St., through Dec. 29. Tickets are $20. Information: 215-763-0110.

Goode put together eight monologues from these profoundly disgruntled seasonal workers who are mad as hell and simply refuse to take it any more. In variations on the-buck-stops-here motif, they come forward to dish the dirt on Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The offending Clauses, it emerges from the reindeer's lamentations, are an unsavory and just about unspeakable couple. Santa is a cruel taskmaster, and a sexual predator with no regard for the age, gender or even species of his targets.

Matching this boss from hell is Mrs. Claus, a lush given to demonstrating her lack of elf-respect by attempting to drown Santa's helpers in the punch bowl.

The Eight is loosely constructed around a sensational rape charge brought against the old goat by Vixen (an amusing Jane Stojak). Her harness mates offer different perspectives, and also bemoan the fate of Rudolf, who is now reduced to mumbling in a padded cell.

There are standouts in Dennis Smeltzer's Cupid, the only openly gay reindeer, and Joe Chevere's Comet. Comet, a delinquent running with the wrong herd, was rescued from the mean streets by Santa in what turns out to be an uncharacteristic display of compassion.

Goode's inspiration was obviously James Finn Garner's popular Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, but he has his own style, and the level of biting wit in the better monologues is well sustained. The vacuous Christmas music and traditional tinseled set furnish just the right backdrop for the cheerful iconoclasm.

When you think one more hearing of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" shamelessly turned into a commercial for the Pennsylvania lottery will drive you utterly mad, The Eight beckons with a bracing and graphic antidote that's definitely not for the kiddies. It brings a needed dose of ho-ho-hum to a time of year that sorely needs it.

Contact Desmond Ryan at 215-854-5614 or