December 14, 2012
REVIEW: "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues"
Arts Critic, James D. Watts Jr.
For something that is basically a bunch of reindeer sitting around and talking, "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" delves into some very dark materials.
Jeff Goode's play, which Theatre Pops opened Thursday at the Tulsa PAC, does to the song "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" something on the order of what Gregory Maguire did to "The Wizard of Oz" with "Wicked."
Both take a jaundiced view of an iconic story, twisting it enough to show all the disturbing possibilities that might underlie what on the surface is an innocent little fable to amuse children.
"The Eight" are the reindeer we know by name: Dasher, Dancer, Comet, Cupid, Prancer, Vixen, Donner, Blitzen. The ones who pull Santa's sleigh around the world on Christmas Eve. "The elite," as some of them like to say about themselves.
Yet things aren't so merry and bright up at the North Pole these days. It seems that the holly-jolly image of Santa Claus and his massive operation for the manufacture and distribution of toys has succumbed to the sort of moral rot that power and wealth can generate.
And the reindeer all have their stories -- about what happened to Vixen one night in the toy workshop; about why Rudolph, already a damaged child from birth, is now nearly catatonic; about whether Santa is a true saint for all the good he's done, or a monster for what goes on at the North Pole the other 364 days of the year.
"The Eight," for all its absurdist trappings and talk of Santa, is a very adult, very dark play. Throughout there are moments of equally dark, equally adult humor that produce a lot of uneasy laughter -- only because there is a great deal of discomfiting truth to the story -- or rather, stories -- being told.
Anyone who has followed, whether eagerly or casually, the unfolding of the latest sex scandal involving some celebrity or other kind of role model will have heard bits and pieces of each reindeer's testimony -- the contradictory claims, the self-serving statements, the affected disdain for the whole situation, the deliberate provocations.
And the cast director Randall Whalen has assembled -- many of whom were part of last year's production -- present this material with great effectiveness.
Dave Garcia embodies the gruff machismo of Dasher -- "Number one from day one" -- while Freddie Tate keeps the outrageousness of the very out Cupid is perfect control.
Paula Scheider makes the militant Blitzen as convincing in her condemnations of Santa as Matt Steiert as Comet is in his praise of the man "who saved my life." Natalie Oglesby Skalla is just clueless enough as Dancer, while Valerie Stefan finds the right balance between Vixen's defiance and despair.
New to the cast is Melanie Fry as Donner, Rudolph's mother, whose tough talk and survivor's mentality can't quite conceal the confusion and heartbreak she feels.
The extremely self-centered Hollywood, which is what Prancer is called (because of the 1989 movie "Prancer"), should be one of the more purely comic segments, but Charles Kevin Smith doesn't bring the sort of over-the-top quality the character needs.
"The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" continues with performances at 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Dec. 20-22, 2 p.m. Sunday and Dec. 23 at the Tulsa PAC, 110 E. Second St. For tickets: 918-596-7111, tulsaworld.com/mytix.