Silver Chips - December 14, 2004

The Eight: Reindeer Monologues breaks with Christmas convention

Play tells a twisted story

Erica Hartmann, Online Managing Entertainment Editor

Christmas frequently transverses the realms of religious seriousness, joyous celebration and shameless commercialism, but now, in Jeff Goode's The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, Christmas enters the absurd.

Theater of the absurd is often a little difficult to understand. With the added element of slandering the mostly cherished season of Christmas, The Eight: Reindeer Monologues is extremely difficult to swallow. This could also because of its alarming, taboo subject: sexual abuse. The rational mind immediately rejects the idea that Santa Claus could be so horrific, but confusion soon gives way to laughter, and contemplation yields deeper significance.

These reindeer are not here to spread stories of Christmas cheer; they tell a tale of scandalous allegations against Santa Claus himself.

The inferred background of the plot is that the figurehead of Christmas present is accused of being a voracious sex offender with a taste for reindeer. His reported assaults spurred one such deer to leak her story to the press. These monologues are a series of unprefaced interviews with the eight reindeer on Santa's team concerning the highly repulsive controversy, which represents a similar situation in any American workplace.

The reindeer represent unique social groupings, and they are all brilliantly crafted to embody an American stereotype. Their images are strengthened with costumes (designed by the cast and the director Stephen B. Thomas), which range from plain business suits to jeans and a sweatshirt, feisty red dress clothes to demure casual attire. And, of course, they all have antlers.

Dasher, played by Jamie Sinsz, is the lead. He is always on the front of the team in every single sleigh run-except for that one time when Rudolph did the job. He is a tough guy. Santa put Rudolph up because of some fog, but Dasher has flown through blizzards, hail storms and all number of natural disasters. And he is proud to have done so. Dasher is, in effect, the reindeer incarnation of the staunch military officer, willing to gloss over any scandal to preserve the honor of his institution.

Dasher is followed by Cupid (Bradley Burgess Donaleski), the only openly gay reindeer on the team. Cupid's monologue is laden with inside scoops on Santa's numerous sexual encounters, fleshed out with innuendo and flamboyant spunk. He represents the hypocritical fans of intrigue, the people who revel in hearing horror stories of rape and adultery, who would be hard pressed to condemn anything overtly sexual. Donaleski, who swears he is not gay, plays a picture-perfect flaming role: tight pants, expressive gestures, slightly nasal voice.

Hollywood (Tim Elliott) is next. Most people know him as Prancer, but this prima donna is just dying for attention. He is vying with Vixen (Melissa Paper), the last of Santa's sexual exploits, for television airtime. This obnoxious, self-centered character is omnipresent, it seems, in successful circles of real life, blending agilely into the ranks of the opportunistic and bereft of moral values.

Blitzen (Mary Wiseman) can be summed up completely by her Che Guevara T-shirt. She is the rebel eager to take up any cause, the extremist left, the righteous believer, over-boiling with feminist rage. Her complement is Comet (Zak Jeffries), the reformed junkie, now a hard-core conservative, who refuses to believe any detrimental life concerning the great, philanthropical St. Nicholas that rescued him from the gutters. While Jeffries draws voluntary laughter from the audience, Wiseman is not quite as funny. She takes her role a little too seriously, masking the inherent humor.

The last female reindeer is Dancer (Christeen Able), a New York City Jewish princess. Able carries the Jewish tradition of being persecuted quite well. Unfortunately, her lines are not delivered as smoothly as her persona. Pauses that may have been for emphasis or character turn into slightly uneasy silences, and repeated lines are similarly awkward.

Donner (Richard Fawley) has the most heartbreaking story of the bunch. He is Rudolph's father, the good-for-nothing Pop of a disfigured and currently catatonic freak. Because he never amounted to anything, he put all of his hopes into his son, but when the young deer was born, it was clear that Rudolph had an even more nonexistent chance for success than his father. However, Santa Claus took a particular (sexual) liking to Rudolph, and thus began the downward spiral of courage and defeat. Fawley sounds the part very well, but he has this odd smirk on his face the entire time he's on stage, which is rather disconcerting.

Vixen is the last to go and reveals the least. By the time she finally hits the stage most of the mystery of whether or not Santa is really culpable has already been resolved one way or another. However, she provides a nice summary of emotions, offering no conclusion except the viewer's own.

That is the magic of this type of distortion. The topic of sexual abuse has long been avoided or hidden, and anyone can sympathize with the victim, or the company with the reputation on the line, or the military school trying to save itself from disgrace. However when the characters involved are reindeer and the criminal is none other than Santa Claus, the affair is put into a completely different light.

Goode enhances the distorted effect with a dizzying mixture of pleasure and disquietude. The monologues are for the most part hilarious. Donner, for example, talks about flying into a large skyscraper that definitely wasn't there last Christmas. But then the lights fade red, and the stories turn dark, exposing the deep affliction brooding in each of these tormented souls.

The lighting and sound are a joint effort on the part of Stage Manager Stacy Shade, Sinsz and Thomas, and the trio also does some fabulous work with the music. After the first few monologues Christmas tunes ring out over cute pantomimes, breaking the tension established at the end of the previous scene. As the play progresses, the hilarious turns amusing, the dark turns disturbing and the Christmas tunes degrade into blurred nightmares of their former, cheery selves.

The whole production is jarring, making the viewer seriously consider the dysfunctional ways in which society deals with unmentionable subjects. In the process, it perverts Christmas beyond recognition, but a few minutes in any department store will soon fix that.

The Eight: Reindeer Monologues is about two hours with one intermission. It runs through Jan. 1 at the Top Floor Theatre. This show is intended for mature audiences.