Off-Off Online - Thursday, November 29, 2007

Prancing and Pawing

by Li Cornfeld
The Eight: Reindeer Monologues reviewed November 29, 2007

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen. Or do you? Jeff Goode's comedy The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, staged by the Dysfunctional Theatre Company, takes audiences to would-be familiar North Pole territory and twists the terrain: Santa Claus is a pervert.

Though best known for original work, the Dysfunctional Theatre Company has produced The Eight: Reindeer Monologues each holiday season since 2005. With its playful characters and simple structure -- a series of tell-all style monologues from the reindeer who pull Santa's sleigh -- the The Eight: Reindeer Monologues makes a smart annual Christmas special for a company dedicated to irreverent ensemble material.

The cozy North Pole dive bar where the play is set enhances the production's sense of festive seediness. The North Hole (designed by Jason Unfried, who appears on stage as a disturbingly funny Donner) features a cluster of tables, a fully stocked bar, and, in keeping with the holiday spirit, bits and pieces of clever Christmas dˇcor. An erect blow up palm tree strung with lights is a particularly inspired touch.

Over the course of the play, each reindeer seizes an opportunity to head to the front of the bar in order to fix a drink and reveal to the audience his or her unique perspective on the crises at hand: Vixen has accused Santa Claus of sexually assaulting her. Will the scandal bring about the downfall of Santa Claus, and, by extension, the end of Christmas itself? More importantly, should it? Among the members of Santa's prestigious sleigh team, vocal and opinionated employees who have a lot at stake, it all depends on whom you ask.

Dasher (Robert Brown, who also directs) is a Hawaiian shirted, baseball-capped yes-man proud to lead Santa's team. As Dasher, Brown displays dumfounded agitation toward the members of the sleigh team who question Santa's integrity, yet lacks the charisma required for the leadership skills that the character so desperately wishes he had.

Rachel Groundy stands out as Blitzen, a feminist reindeer deeply troubled by the rampant corruption in Santa's workshop. She delivers Blitzen's direct address with a delicate thoughtfulness that is as much a rallying cry as it is an articulate examination of right and wrong. Groundy nails the demeanor of a smart young activist who has had just enough to drink that the she is delighted at an opportunity to deliver an enthusiastic lecture to anyone present.

Not all of the performers maintain the high energy levels needed to sustain an atmosphere of juicy scandal. Still, at 75 minutes, the production clips along at an appropriately brisk pace.

The Eight: Reindeer Monologues has sufficient references to classic Christmas stories, especially the 1964 stop-animation Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, to delight theater goers immersing themselves in the holiday spirit and all of the entertainment - plays, movies, music - that the season brings. For those suffering from an overdose of holiday festivities or anyone seeking refuge from requisite holiday cheer, the production's adult-themed version of the sugary reindeer story will provide welcome relief.

Thus, the darkly comedic scandal that divides the reindeer community can, ironically, unite the characters' real-life, human counterparts. For holiday enthusiasts and cynics who are looking for a Christmas play that they can enjoy together, The Eight: Reindeer Monologues would make for a fun evening.