Rochester City News - December 17, 2003

DECEMBER 17, 2003
Getting frisky


            As stories of the North Pole and its jolly goings-on get updated for television and movie screens year after year, so too do those sweet stories' foils. Jeff Goode's The Eight: Reindeer Monologues is a dark comedy that has enjoyed success in the only society that could understand it: a society obsessed with celebrity and sex scandals. Even better if those sex scandals involve celebrities.

            Downstairs Cabaret Theatre puts on the brave, randy production with pluck and a few truly bright performances. After Santa is accused of raping one of his reindeer, the victim's coworkers and the victim herself, Santa's Eight, tell the story in a simple string of monologues. The narrative arc of the script pulls the action through what would have been just a series of speeches. The allegations are hinted at, whispered about --- made mythical, appropriately enough --- before the real victims, and the full story, have their turn on stage.

            Tom Habecker made a spare but evocative set: appropriate for the play's spare, monologue structure. Three confusedly placed televisions silently play stop-motion animation film for the actors to reference and flip off. A precarious Christmas tree leans dangerously in the corner. Everything hints that something in this holiday world is awry.

            The stereotypical characters --- though they are technically reindeer, these types are recognizable --- are the same confused, blustering, angry, loyal, and political characters who appear in the wake of a high-profile allegation. Their commentaries are familiar, sometimes hysterically so. The costuming by Mary Anne Deck helps characterize each type with subtle, recognizable markers, and is appropriately anthropomorphic. The only thing to place these as four-legged characters, besides the "fuzzy ass" and veterinarian references, are the floppy antlers each actor wears.

            Three truly great performances carry the show. Bobby Conte handles the part of the gay Cupid, a mincing stereotype if there ever was one, with excellent comic timing. He deftly delivers the monologue's political statements, and some truly great commentary on a homophobic North Pole, without leaving the mark of a two-by-four on the audience. Jay Falzone plays Donner, the herd deer with a bad back and a mentally ill son, and delivers a difficult monologue with a graceful balance of emotion and brokenness. The truly hysterical performance was delivered by Jeffrey Alan Miller as Comet. He is the reformed former member of Hell's Herd, now rabidly loyal to Santa for turning his life around. His story of flying in low over the city traffic, high on coke, gin, and bad marijuana, to scare commuters, is priceless.

            But director Kate Arecchi casts a far too serious light on the nastiest implications of this production. The angry, left-wing feminist Blitzen screams to us that Santa is a serial child molester. The working-class Donner, father of the mentally disabled Rudolph, tries desperately to make the audience understand why he gave his son to the man who wanted to have his way with him. The rape victim, Vixen, defiantly answers the public commentary into her promiscuity and raises the question: Does anydeer ask to be raped? These are all disturbing and powerful performances.

            But maybe too disturbing and powerful. This stuff of TV crime dramas delivered with no sense of irony is just confusing. Particularly when nestled in a vulgar play filled with jokes about reindeer sex and Mrs. Claus' proclivity for tossing elves. You can't put on a play this outrageous and believe too strongly in the victims' innocence. Monologues about Santa using his reindeer for sex need to have satirical awareness about them. Or else they fall off the funny radar into creepy.

            But being at least a little disturbed is part of the fun. The Eight will wash the taste of candy cane right out of your mouth with pockets of some truly wicked humor. It is a show made for people who know that perversity, dysfunction, and naughtiness don't take a break for the holidays. But don't bring a child to this show: You don't want to have to explain Rudolph's new story to any kid.

The Eight: Reindeer Monologues is playing Thursday through Friday and Monday through Tuesday, December 18 through 20 and 22 through 23, at Downstairs Cabaret Theatre Two, 172 West Main Street. Showtimes are Thursday, Monday, and Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. Tix: $15. 325-4370