DISILLUSIONED DOE: Vixen (Heather Howe) reveals the details of her rape by Santa Claus in the closing scene of “The Eight: Reindeer Monologues” and the Chance Theater in Anaheim.
Where The Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim
When Through Dec. 19. 4 p.m. Saturdays, 6 p.m. Sundays
Length 1 hour, 25 minutes (no intermission)
Suitability Unsuitable for children (adult content and language)
Tickets $20 ($17 students and seniors)
Information (714) 777-3033 or www.chancetheater.com
Friday, November 26, 2004

'Reindeer Monologues'
Review: An irreverent, adult tone regarding Santa and his antlered team.

Special To The Register

Take the climate of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, apply it to Santa Claus at the North Pole, and what have you got? "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues," Jeff Goode's contemporary, comedic-dramatic spin on Santa's famous team of eight reindeer. One of them, Vixen, is about to press sexual-harassment charges against jolly old St. Nick, and the he-said, she-said scenario has everyone running for cover.

The 1994 play, Goode's ingenious revisionism of the Santa Claus-reindeer myth, delivers the withering irreverence of only the most well-honed satire. In a new staging at its Anaheim Hills venue, the Chance Theater gives the spiky, R-rated play a distinctive workout.

Peering behind the curtain of myth, Goode finds alcoholism and drug abuse, homosexuality and bisexuality, debauchery and lechery. Among the eight are narcissists, prima donnas, homebodies, sex kittens and bad boys with titillating tales surrounding the beloved Santa. Peppered with salty language, "The Eight" skirts the line between too-cautious and bad taste, between stale and heavy- handed.

Goode serves up eight successive solo scenes, well-embellished by director Josh Costello and his cast. We get a swaggering Dasher (Casey Long), "first reindeer from Day One," still sulking over the night Rudolph led the team; a lisping, limp-wristed, giggly Cupid (Dimas Diaz); a self-promoting Prancer (Michael Irish), nicknamed "Hollywood" by his peers for his shameless pursuit of a movie caree;, and a militant Blitzen (Alex Bueno), determined to avenge the wrongs inflicted upon herself, Vixen and every doe at the North Pole.

Preppie Comet (Carter Mason) is a reformed hell-raiser who defends Santa's reputation. Passing her time baking cookies, sweet young doe Dancer (Sarah Moreau) was once nearly molested by Santa but is afraid to speak out. An aging, disillusioned Donner (Richard Comeau) brings us up to speed on the truth behind the legend surrounding his son Rudolph. Finally, wronged doe Vixen (Heather Howe), at the center of the hubbub, delivers her side of the story, a rape that began when Santa cornered her alone in the toy shop one day.

"Rashomon"-like, each monologue brings us one step closer to understanding what really happened that day. You'd expect the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace to be dealt with in a drama; the genius of "The Eight" is that it faces the subject head-on even while satirizing it.

Costello and company lend the proper tongue-in-cheek irreverence and a wickedly knowing comedic tone, well-balanced by occasional bursts of intense solemnity. Emily Sanford equips each of the eight with outsized reindeer ears, a black-tipped nose and slightly rouged cheeks. The male actors sport horns, while several deer - bucks Dasher, Cupid and Prancer and doe Blitzen - don too-cool shades.

So sharp is Goode's writing that even the less-pointed scenes are effective. Sporting a cowboy hat, Long's Dasher spoofs the obsession with unsafe working conditions, his speech a catalog of his solid work ethic and of the occupational hazards - fog, cold, sharp rooftops - of being a reindeer. Bueno's sneering Blitzen scorns the "jolly fat pervert" Santa, whom she labels a "libidinous troll," and exposes the corporate mentality behind St.Nick's racket. Mason lends Comet the general appearance of Nathan Lane and the personality of a former wastrel who blasts journalists, lawyers and "perverts" such as Cupid, Blitzen and Vixen for Santa's woes.

More overtly comedic is Diaz, whose sarcastic tone and mock-oily manner as Cupid, "the only openly gay reindeer," weld the concept of sexual profligacy to the snowy-pure image of the Santa myth.

Irish portrays Prancer as a cynical, me-oriented jerk who delivers his monologue during a yoga session, wearing only bikini briefs. Prancer decimates the beloved annual Rudolph TV special as "a Claymation piece of crap" and rips Hollywood execs - a diatribe Irish injects with a biting tone and unmistakable bitterness.

Moreau's clueless-ingenue persona for Dancer is not only endearing; it's a welcome respite from the other reindeers' harangues. Her solo may be less focused than the others', but it lends the perspective of a naïve spirit straining to cope with the ugliness around her.

Donner's a grumpy, morose, old smoker with a bad back, a figure we laugh at, yet pity. Rudolph is a simpleton disfigured at birth - but, Donner tells us, "your dreams for your children are what keep you going." In a short span, Comeau displays Donner's fragile ego, fierce pride, disillusionment and cynicism.

In the crowning scene, Howe at first comes off as a wine-sipping sex kitten in red silk jammies - but the actor's dry sarcasm and ironic tone give comedic kick to Vixen's words. Howe delivers Vixen's fury in full force: Her privacy invaded, her virtue questioned, the doe is left only with her dignity. The monologue, a hoof-kick to our gut, is the strong, final punctuation to an evening of rapid-fire bursts of laughter and intensity.

Freelance writer Eric Marchese has covered entertainment for the Register since 1984.