December 8, 2008
Taking beloved children’s tales and turning them on their head is an age old tradition used to garner laughs by breathing new life into the stories. The "Shrek" film series has had success breathing new life into stories that everyone knows. Get ready now for the holiday version with The Eight: Reindeer Monologues.
In the vein of the Shrek series, "The Eight" takes much of the beloved Santa Claus mythos and twists it around. Back for its third year at the Society Hill Playhouse thanks to BCKSEET Productions the play, written by Jeff Goode, is a series of monologues, one each from those famous reindeer talking about what’s really on their mind. There are only eight because the most famous one of all - the red nosed one - is missing, though the reason why doesn’t reflect the happy Hollywood ending the television special would like us all to believe. In fact, nothing is quite like television and books would like us to believe. The reindeer are working in poor conditions and Mr. and Mrs. Claus have trouble keeping their hands to themselves.
You see, recently a problem bigger than who is on the naughty and nice list has erupted in the old North Pole that has all of the reindeer choosing sides. Vixen has claimed that Santa raped her; and while most of the reindeer will admit it’s not unheard of for Santa to get touchy feely with his frequent fliers, they aren’t so sure what happened that fateful night in the toy shop. As each of the reindeer gives their monologue, we hear they’re viewpoint on what might have happened - a kind-of reindeer Rashomon. Though what did happened remains as murky as that foggy night when Rudolph helped Santa with his shiny nose. That is until the final moments when Vixen gets her time to speak.
Along the way, we get to hear about Dasher’s ego for wanting to be the leader of the pack. Prancer, who now goes by Hollywood, talks about why he is the most famous reindeer and animalism in Hollywood. Dancer talks about trying to get built in sick days for a job where she only works one day each year. Then there is Comet, the "born again" reindeer who used to be part of a gang and even admittedly took part in trying to rob a liquor store.
As separate entities, the monologues are hit and miss. The tonal shift from one monologue to the next makes it hard to call the play a full on comedy. Even the most serious ones try to infuse comedic parts into their scene, but with varying degrees of success. Talking about your son being inappropriately touched and your own failures and then landing on a punch line isn’t always going to be a homerun. The same can be said for the feministic rant of Blitzen, which moves the sometimes buried rape centered plot along, but doesn’t garner much in terms of humor. The humor that does come through is due to that of actress Tina Brock, with her impersonation of whiny children. In her short set, Brock jumps in and out of many vocal impressions to illustrate Blitzen’s point.
Among the reindeer, it is Hollywood played by G DeCandia and Dancer played by Kate Brennan that have the best material but also connect with the audience the most. DeCandia has mastered the Hollywood swagger while oozing sex appeal and an appropriate holier than thou sense of entitlement. Any reindeer that changes their name to Hollywood had better have the personality to back it up afterall. On the other end of the spectrum is Brennan whose artistic Dancer is on the meek end of the pack. But while she may not have the flashiest of monologues, Brennan is able to draw the audience in with her warming stage presence.
Directed by Steve Wright, we are given an enjoyable play suffering from an uneven script. The minimal set, consisting of the brick house fronts where all of the reindeer live, allows for the actor’s to move around with ease in the already crowded theater space. But one thing that is noticeable in such small spaces is that it’s harder to mask mistakes. Some of the actors stumbled over their lines in the heat of the moment. At times it appeared to maybe part of the dialogue, but other times it is clearly a slip.
After watching "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" you are never going to look at Jolly Old Saint Nick the same. Regardless of whether you believe Vixen, all of the reindeer paint Santa as a less than savory character who gets joy out of getting inappropriate with his charges. Remember that the next time you sit on Santa’s lap... and then remind yourself it’s only a candy cane, right?
Playing now through December 31, 2008 at the Society Hill Playhouse. Tickets are $21.00 (includes 1 drink of either beer, wine or soda) Call 215-923-0210 or visit www.comcasttix.com to reserve. www.bckseet.com