Anchorage Press - December 10-16, 1998

Bad script, strong acting mark "The Eight"
"Reindeer Monologues" rendered with panache
by Toni Massari McPherson

Dec. 10-16, 1998 / Vol. 7, Ed. 49


The cast of "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" (l to r, back row) Brendan Babb, Laura Forbes, Shane LaVesque, Paul Schweigert (l to r, front row) David Haynes, Eleanor Janecek-Delaney, Fran Morley, Frances Tolbert and Mark Robokoff.

A rape investigation is underway. A bizarre assortment of witnesses, co-workers of the famous alleged attacker and victim, tell their stories. Did the boss do it? Is the woman an instigator or the innocent in this scenario - is it a case of sexual harassment or wrongful accusation? And, oh yeah, this is story about Santa Claus and his reindeer.

That's the plot of Jeff Goode's "The Eight," subtitled "Reindeer Monologues," Kokopelli Theatre Company's latest production. It's crude and vulgar and I'm sorry - I gave it a chance. I tried to imagine the jolly old elf as a pedophile, rapist and pervert. It made me want to heave. I hate this script.

But - and I can hardly believe this - I thought the actors were great, even while I despised their lines. What could have been stereotypes were well-thought out characterizations. Director Bostin Christopher has helped his troupe achieve the insightful, sharp-edged characterization he showed in his memorable solo performance, "Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Forehead." The eight reindeer emerge as individuals. Granted, they sound like members of a self-help group, but they're intriguingly diverse. Each of "The Eight" (the moniker among reindeer for these cr¸me de la cr¸me sleigh-pullers) has a monologue. Though they're ostensibly about the investigation, they're actually more like character explorations.

Brendan J. Babb is Dasher, the lead reindeer - "number one from day one." Uptight and rigid in his three-piece suit, he's the workaholic who runs into skyscrapers and endures skin-piercing ice storms for The Mission. Shane Levesque's Cupid prances onto stage, a flamboyantly gay man with a blue feather boa; yet he manages to make the much-done mincing moves and eye-rolling bitchiness both funny and fresh.

Mark Robokoff's Hollywood (Prancer's nickname) has delusions of LA grandeur. Robokoff takes full advantage of some of the funniest lines in the show, such as when he imagines himself a star in a Schwarzenegger-Prancer buddy film. Blitzen is the hard-core feminist of the group; Laura Forbes's performance here borders on militant raving, standing in marked contrast to the self-absorbed deer that went before.

Paul Schweigert is very good in the role of Comet, the wild, reckless substance-abusing kid who has a new life thanks to Santa. He preaches to the crowd with born-again fervor. Eleanor Janecek Delaney is supremely cast as the hand-wringing Jewish former ballerina, Dancer.

Rudolph's father Donner was an unemployed, blue-collar member of the herd before joining the ranks of The Eight; David Haynes gives a heartfelt performance here. And finally there's the rape victim, Vixen: Frances Tolbert, dressed defiantly in revealing red, swings fluidly between tearfulness and anger.

Producer Kari Mote also handles costuming, a vital component that signals each personality before a word is spoken. Antlers and cloven-hoof gloves denote species in these otherwise very human personalities. The set is simple - a Christmas tree and chair in front of a painted backdrop of a blazing hearth. Fran Morley, as the detective, interviews each deer in a windowed room off the stage, a device that took attention from the monologues.

This is Christopher's farewell production in Anchorage. He and wife Susan are off to seek fame in New York City. "It's very scary choosing a career in acting," he said. "Coming home to Anchorage has allowed me to get a better sense of my ability, to synergize my experiences in New York and what I learned at graduate school, and to solidify my commitment to this career path."

Meanwhile, "The Eight" is showing Thursdays through Sundays at 8 p.m., through Dec. 20, in a storefront theater just across the hall from the Glacier BrewHouse.