The Austinist
December 10, 2009

Review: The Eight: Reindeer Monologues at The Studios on West [Theater]

If your Christmas spirit has all the structural integrity of a gingerbread house left in the rain, this obsidian little comedy's storyline is right up your chimney (only one more Christmas metaphor after this). It's a series of testimonials from the reindeer in the elite flying force known as "The Eight" on the alleged rape of Vixen, the most "sexually empowered" (read: sluttiest) of them, by Santa Claus. Yes. Bestial rape. By Santa Claus. Unlike the regular one, this Santa is a media-pandering, lecherous creep laden with a history of abuse. Like Gary Busey (with a beard on his chin as white as the snow).

That's one of the strongest points of the show, actually: the zealous conjuring of images of Santa as this Maris-From-Fraiser kind of beast that we never see. The unfortunate side effect of this, however, is that the audience isn't really polarized. Two characters defend him (questionably), four defy him, and two (one largely due to the obvious forgetting of lines) hold an ambiguous stance. That's an uneven playing ground built into the script that slows momentum. For a monologue play with a slowly-revealed-through-line narrative to work optimally, an audience must feel like they're being lied to or withheld from at some points and tantalized. This gives them the impetus to consider the piece and, subsequently, its themes and characters, after the show. Though convinced and vehement as the characters may be written, firm hands must sculpt and add nuance to the piece lest it seem misshapen.

Damned thing was lumpy.

Despite the confidence expressed in his resume masquerading as a director's note, Joe Solis doesn't display enough of the multi-tasking capability and competence necessary to direct, produce, and perform in this glinting little piece. The shards must be spat or flung with precision, but the limp-wristed manner in which dialogue is often thrown lands them at the feet, rather than in the chests, of the audience. Often the piece lacks the energy of higher stakes. This is a risky piece that veers unexpectedly into some dark, crazed terrain and it is, most importantly, a SATIRE. Why does it seem largely like a PSA? Thank the Baby Jesus for Jessica Arnold and Tony Salinas, who rev an otherwise bewildered production with torque and verve and maneuver their portions with skill and grace.

However, their efforts alone cannot save the entire proceedings from careening in to the pit of amateurishness. Clunky set changes, unnecessary props and stage business, actors allowed to rove the space exposed to the audience, musical interludes that smash the ambience of the script, and utterly ill-advised, and sometimes overly-literal (Vixen in cheap, Frederick's-of-Hollywood tufted pumps), costume choices collide in a heap, the pressure of which will turn any holiday spirit into coal.