NYtheatre.com - November 15, 2005
Christmas means a lot of things to many different people, but what does it mean to those who live and work in its jiggly jelly underbelly? You may be surprised to find that not everything is jolly in the world run by the ol' elf. In The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, things are being shook up from the bottom all the way up to the big guy who wears the big red pants (though he seems to be having problems keeping "little Santa" in them).
In fact, Santa is so evil in this play that I found it hard to believe that he would even waste his time flying around the world bringing joy into children's hearts. In The Eight (referring to the eight reindeer that pull Santa's sled) we are told that Santa is a drunk, a pedophile (he does terrible things to Rudolph), a rapist (Vixen is not just trying to get some attention), and that he enjoys the kids sitting on his lap for reasons no parent would want to think about. Okay, sure, Santa's bad-but what's the connection? I thought at some point the playwright would make the link between Christmas and greed or compare the dysfunctional North Pole workplace to the dysfunctional corporate standards in our economic system, but this never happens. It seemed more like gratuitous sex and violence. There are a couple of monologues that make clear indictments of society. Vixen's, for example, has powerful statements on the recent rape cases against famous entertainers (the Kobe Bryant case immediately came to mind). After so much Santa-bashing, finally Comet comes to his defense and claims Santa saved his life by pulling him away from drugs and gangs. This is refreshing to hear but even still this monologue falters and doesn't really stick to its guns.
The ensemble does an excellent job creating their characters. I really liked Peter Schuyler's Dasher. He opens the show with a punch. Justin Plowman wrenches the pathos from every line in his Donner monologue. (Donner, if you don't remember, is Rudolph's dad.) Amy Overman kicks out her Vixen monologue with searing sultriness. Her words stuck with me. The rest of cast-Robert Brown, Jennifer Jill White, Theresa Goehring, Jason Unfried, and Jennifer Gill-are all in full command of the stage when it's their turn.
I think what I like best about The Eight is that all the monologues have a very nice connectivity. It's not just a series of stilted speeches. They flow with considerable grace and have a smooth progression. Playwright Jeff Goode creates a set of characters with eight distinct voices. His writing is brutal at times, especially Donner's monologue, but I couldn't find the handle. The play is set in bar where the reindeer hang out and we hear all this "truth" told about Santa and poor Mrs. Claus (also a drunk and stag chaser), but we never really hear any deeper truth about why society is dysfunctional or how it might have gotten that way, and nobody ever does anything about it. Many of the things said need to be said, but in the world of the play they need to be said to Santa. But they never are. Perhaps that's the point. If we can complain about dysfunction but never do anything about it, then we're stuck with it.