Richmond Times-Dispatch - November 16, 2007

Seasonal 'Reindeer' not all fun and games

Friday, Nov 16, 2007 - 12:07 AM


It's not exactly merry holiday entertainment, but "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" is the opening shot of the Christmas theater season.

Richmond Triangle Players brings us Jeff Goode's 1994 play, which is laden in equal measure with laughs and sexual abuse allegations against Santa.

"The Eight" refers to the team that pulls Santa's sleigh, named for us by Clement Moore's poem "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."

We meet the famous reindeer one by one as they file into a break room at the North Pole at the end of a workday.

Griping about elves and grousing about Santa, each spends about 10 minutes with us while grabbing a drink from the grungy fridge and retrieving a jacket from a locker. Clues to each deer's personality come from the pinups and personal items inside the lockers.

And these reindeer have grievances. Too much work, too little recognition, as with any group of employees. Some defend Santa, and some accuse him of being a "jolly fat pervert."

Dasher, the leader of the team, is a tough guy; Cupid's a swishy gay deer. Prancer is now known as Hollywood, because he got his own movie in 1989; Comet is a skateboarder with a ghetto accent.

Goode's writing is clever, letting each reindeer's personality emerge at the same time as each reveals a bit of the bigger picture -- Santa's alleged abuse of one of The Eight and of Rudolph, Donner's son (yes, that Rudolph).

There's quite a contrast here between the whimsy of talking, swearing reindeer and the seriousness of the larger issues, and it makes for some squirmy moments.

The production, under T. Ross Aitken's direction, similarly veers between laughs and deadly slow passages. But the five actors work hard to make their characters real, and they succeed.

J.R. Foster's Dasher is a macho guy with an ax to grind; Jase Smith is hilarious as both Comet and Cupid. Lauren Marinelli White's Vixen is quite believable as the conflicted wronged party in the abuse scandal, and Suzanne Ankrum is impressive as artsy Dancer and tough gal Blitzen. Chris Hester plays both the self-involved Hollywood and tortured father Donner convincingly.

There's some fun to be had at "The Eight," but this is definitely not your feel-good Christmas show, so be sure to leave the kids at home.