Erie Times News - December 4, 2004

Live Theater

Irreverent - But Funny
'UnXmas Story,' 'The Eight: Reindeer Monologues' offer an evening of surprises and adult entertainment.

by Su Harrington
Contributing writer
Read tomorrow's Erie Times-News 

Now here's something you don't expect to see: A Christmas play with an angel who cusses out a shepherd and a Wise Man who loses his camel.

These are but two of the laughable surprises in Jeff Goode's new play, "The UnXmas Story," now playing at Directors Circle Theatre with Goode's smash hit, "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues."

"The UnXmas Story" takes place in Bethlehem a couple of thousand years ago, when a young couple of the lineage of David ends up spending the night in a stable because there's no room at the inn, or as the Woman says, the innkeeper turned them away because he could tell they were poor. This irreverently witty tale will defy your expectations from beginning to end, and you'll love every minute of it.

Aaron Pacy and Michelle Pacy star as "Man" and "Woman," with Jason Fried as the shepherd reluctant to leave his flock, Kelly Rodland as the Angel, and Jeff Rodland as the King. These seasoned performers create a show that will keep you chuckling for days.

THE SECOND OF THE EVENING'S offerings, "The Eight," deals with a subject you'd never expect in a Christmas play: Vixen has accused Santa of rape. As in any allegations of sexual misconduct, the rest of Santa's employees respond in various ways, most of them with the kind of mixed emotions you might expect.

Aaron Pacy plays Dasher as a hayseed company deer, just a guy-next-door trying to get by. Pacy, who has performed such diverse roles as Mr. Blonde in "Reservoir Dogs" and Tom in "Glass Menagerie," is a gifted actor. His performances in both plays are flawless.

Michael Mahler is a natural as the gay reindeer, Cupid. He characterizes Santa as a whip-loving pervert.

Jason Fried plays the self-involved yet, in Fried's hands, charming Hollywood, a deer who spends more time carping about his own perceived injuries than taking any kind of stand on Vixen's allegations. He wants to do a buddy film with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Fried's animated description of the plot is a total scream.

Christine Volk seizes center stage as Blitzen, Vixen's most staunch defender. She's a feminist, articulate and impassioned. Volk's performance resonates powerfully in the real world.

Jeff Rodland, in addition to directing both plays with the assistance of his wife, Kelly, gives very funny performances as the lost wise man/king in "The UnXmas Story" and as Comet in "The Eight." Saint Nicholas (as Comet calls Santa) saved him from a life of "getting high on cocaine" and other devilment; even the elves were "towel boys in an Irish brothel" when Santa rescued them. Rodland's is a controlled and exceptional performance.

Dancer, the Jewish deer who used to dance in the reindeer ballet, comes to vivid life through the talents of Kelly Rodland. She dishes the dirt on Mrs. Claus, the alcoholic elf-tosser, but can't quite make up her mind whether she believes Vixen. Despite her ambivalence, her monologue is a scathing indictment of both Clauses.

Donner, Rudolph's father, a reindeer broken by grief and unacknowledged guilt, is played with exquisite skill by Joe Thornton. Thornton plays him as a cigar-smoking old buck in a stocking cap who says, "Dreams for your children keep you going through the bad times," yet knows that Rudolph's collapse resulted from Santa's sexual abuse. "I knew I could have prevented it," he says. Thornton manages to make you feel angry with him and sorry for him at the same time.

Then Vixen has her say. Alison Ollinger-Riefstahl personifies every woman who has ever been sexually assaulted. She talks about the shift of blame from Santa to her, the probing into her sex life, the doubts, the accusations against her. She becomes the voice of every person ever victimized by someone with an unvarnished reputation.

Who will believe her story? Riefstahl gives a stunning performance, wildly funny at times, deeply serious the rest.

"The Eight" and "UnXmas" can both be staged on a minimal set, though the hand-crafted manger in the latter is a nice touch. Neither play requires elaborate staging, and director Jeff Rodland wisely keeps it simple.

It's an evening of surprises, of adult entertainment that can lift your spirits in the most unexpected ways. I loved every minute.