Houston Press
December 13, 2021

Houston Christmas Theater

Reindeer Monologues


Unless you want to be charged with child abuse, don't take the kids to Dirt Dogs Theatre's The Eight: Reindeer Monologues. They will never forgive you. They will also never forget. You won't either. Jeff Goode's adults-only tale of reindeer and elf abuse on an epic scale will give you nightmares. As David Sedaris wisely said in Santaland Diaries, Santa is an anagram for Satan.

Santa is no saint in this increasingly dark inky tale. It starts out as an inquest of sorts, a bit jolly as the reindeer prance into the wood-paneled employees room with its coffee urn, plate of cookies, and schedule chalked on the blackboard: Elf zumba, Reindeer yoga, Reindeer Support Group: Be Herd. This is gonna be fun. No, it's going to be frightful and dystopian, disturbing and disquieting. This is Christmas with a vengeance. The Furies are here and they're about to testify.

Their antlers festooned, some plumed with feathers, one reindeer wears a ballerina's chiffon skirt and soft slippers (that must be Dancer, Holly Voigt Wilkinson), one's macho in a flight suit with a big Number 1 on his sleeve (Dasher, Jeff Featherston), one's in punk mufti with wild hair and leather pants (Blitzen, Malinda L. Beckham); one minces in long johns and red leatherman's harness (Cupid, Curtis Barber); one's in a short revealing clingy skirt (Vixen, Katrina Ellsworth); one's a shlub who slouches disheveled in his chair, apparently not wanting to be here (Donner, Travis Ammons); that one is classic GQ in skinny suit with flashy sunglasses and smartphone (Prancer, a.k.a. Hollywood, Todd Thigpen); one looks like he works at an Amazon warehouse (Comet, Jimmy Vollman). What the hell is going on?

The reindeer have had enough; they calling a strike on Christmas Eve. They can't take it anymore with Mrs. Claus perpetually drunk and physically harming the elves (apparently she tosses them about the toy shop for fun). But it's the Fat Boy himself who's the worst offender. Jolly, my ass. He's accused of raping Vixen, and the eight - like a caribou Rashomon - disclose in individual monologues what they know about life in far northern hell.

This is no vision of sugar plums, sweet memories, or warm cocoa. Oh, the horror. Some of them defend the boss, some of them want him dead. His toxic masculinity is boundless, and he knows the seductive power of his whip. What kind of pervert knows when you're sleeping, knows when you're awake, and knows how to get into your house at the stroke of midnight under the cloak of darkness? He's the universal symbol of kindness and goodness, but what evil lurks under all that fur and flushed rosy cheek?

Goode's comedy teeters on tragedy, and the satire quickly curdles into unbidden territory. The shaky laughter suddenly subsides. Is this the Santa we all know and love? How perverse, how shocking. Can it be true? Blithely, forcefully directed by Trevor Cone, the truth shall set you free.

Vixen is the victim, but it's Donner who's most warped. In Ammons' amazing performance, he's riddled with guilt so deep he can hardly speak. He willingly gave his son Rudolph - yes, that Rudolph - into the libidinous hands of Santa, and he's never forgiven himself. The guilt has eaten him alive. Ammons turns the improbable into the starkly real. You see his pain in his downcast eyes and halting gestures. His confession cuts deep. He makes us believe. Magnificently delivered, his monologue touches us where we shouldn't be touched. Fantasy isn't so fantastical any more. The pain is right here, right now. Ammons confronts us, slaps us awake and makes us witness. We peer into the abyss.

This is where Goode's play strikes the universal - the abuse of the powerful against the powerless, the sleazy charm masquerading as good times, the juggernaut of P.R. If you still believe in Santa Claus, The Eight will shake you. Be warned: Don't bring the kiddies.

The Eight: Reindeer Monologues continues through December 18 at 7:30 p.m. Monday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Studio 233, 1824 Spring Street. For more information call 713-561-5113 or visit dirtdogstheatre.org. $25.

The Eight: Reindeer Monologues is an adults-only adventure on stage. Photo by Gary Griffin