December 9, 2009

The Eight: Reindeer Monologues at Compass Theatre

A Christmas Nightmare

By Bill Eadie

Probably, my brother's worst Christmas came when my parents thought that he was craving presents too much and decided to fool him. They put out a very large and heavy package, beautifully wrapped, under the tree with his name on it well ahead of Christmas. My brother was aching to find out what it was--something terrific he was certain. On Christmas morning, he tore into the wrappings with great enthusiasm, only to find inside a large soapbox into which my parents placed a wooden block. My brother was not only crestfallen, he never forgot the incident.

The cast of Compass Theatre's "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" had a similar experience last night. One by one, the young actors came out on stage to portray each of Santa's reindeer reacting to revelations of a North Pole sex scandal. It was a wild and extreme idea, but then "The Eight" had been pitched as a very dark holiday comedy. Only the audience fooled them. They didn't laugh. Not once.

OK, there weren't very many of us in the audience, and maybe someone produced a chuckle here or there. The audience did seem primed to laugh: they were giggling at the obscene Christmas music that was playing before the show began. Once the lights went down and the eight monologues began, though, nothing.

So, what went wrong? Well, the play, for one thing. It might have been fun to make jokes about abuse of power through sex at the end of the Clinton presidency, and it might have been cute to line out satirically the range of reactions, from redneck to politically correct. Too much water has gone under that bridge, though, and jokes about topics ranging from sexual harassment to rape to sodomy just don't go down the way they once might have done.

The young cast probably didn't help themselves much, either. No one shone, and no one was incompetent, but the performances uniformly lacked spark and depth, no matter how hard some of the performers tried to connect with the audience. Even though things kept moving, the 75 minute play seemed to go by slowly.

"The Eight" is surely the Christmas present you never wanted. Fortunately, it only plays until December 20, and it alternates with a revival of Compass' highly successful production of "Welcome to Ramallah," a play about humanity and hope in the Israel-Palestine conflict. If I could see only one of these, I know which one I would pick.