Syracuse New Times
Never a group to shrink away from the radical, controversial or simply over-the-top, Rarely Done Productions gets into the holiday spirit by serving up a double bill of curdled Christmas cheer in The Eight: Reindeer Monologues and Seven Santas by Jeff Goode, now on the boards at Jazz Central, 441 E. Washington St.
Playing with the sensationalism and personal exploitation that has defined so much of the media in the era of hundreds of cable TV channels, The Eight parodies popular monologue theater as the audience sees a sordid North Pole scandal unfolding deer by deer. The proceedings take on a distinctly Faulknerian tone as the eight tiny reindeer tell the story in an amusingly fragmented manner, every one of them viewing the traumatic events through their own prism. Not even the elves (who unfortunately do not appear) escape the round of extreme truth-telling.
Under the direction of Dan Tursi, the sparkling cast takes the stage one at a time, exposing Santa’s secrets in poses and epigrams that resemble the kind of perverse holiday cards you do not find on the Hallmark rack. J. Brazil starts the evening off as a raffish reindeer Dasher. Referring to Santa as Fat Boy, his is a Quentin Tarantino-ish look at the shocking events at the workshop.
Openly gay reindeer Cupid (played with a wink by Alan Stillman) paints Santa as a pederast, although he coyly admits that he has had no firsthand experience to confirm this. Adding his own particular insight into the Christmas Eve flight around the world, he coos that Santa’s whip “adds a little spice to the season.” Hollywood, the newly acquired nickname of erstwhile film star Prancer (Gennaro Parlato), ignites the bonfire of bigotry when he bitterly comments, “No deer has ever been nominated for an Academy Award.”
Forgiving Comet (Christopher James) has the serenity of the reformed addict as he recounts his own many sins. As played by David Minikhiem, Blitzen is the most unsettling of the eight. A distinctly rough trade doe, she bitterly assails the jolly old elf, describing him as a “grotesque libidinous troll who knows when you are sleeping and knows when you’re awake,” as she details the cover-up that has dominated the North Pole.
The sexy Dancer, winningly played by Jodi Bova, confides her disdain for the inhabitants of zoos, especially for the habits of monkeys, although she insists she is not an “anti-simian.” As Donner, here presented as the distraught dad of the most famous reindeer of all, Jordan Glaski puzzles over what unfolds for him as the tragedy of Rudolph. Describing the red-nosed one as a fragile young deer with a hideous facial deformity, Glaski plays his scene in classic Lifetime movie style.
As Vixen, the central figure in the tale as it unfolds, statuesque Aubry Panek is all dignity as a deer who will not be destroyed by the events that seem to obsess her teammates.
Although Seven Santas, also directed by Tursi, has its share of wild laughs, it’s clearly the weaker of the two plays, as playwright Goode snowplows over much of the same comic territory. This time, a dissolute Santa has been sent to rehab after a minor violation. In group, the many incarnations of Old St. Nick peel away the many layers of Santa to reveal the man, the saint, the legend and the pervert. Happily, the same cast does the peeling.
Alan Stillman, infuses his Santa, aka NiQ, with a comic’s perfect timing as he explains why Santa’s sleigh is no longer drawn by polar bears and Christopher James brings a wide-eyed pervy enthusiasm to Kris Kringle. J. Brazil’s pacing, gum-chewing Klaus gives an appropriately cynical view of the economics of Christmas, while Jordan Glaski is seemingly being eaten by his costume as Saint Nicholas. Jodi Bova is a curvaceous Jolly Old Elf (or J.O.E.), and Gennaro Parlato is perfect as the iconic Big S. The bonus for Seven Santas is little dynamo Becky Bottrill as a messed-up and seriously scary Mrs. Claus.
For a mature audience exhausted from decking the halls and perhaps ready to don the gay apparel, Rarely Done’s combination platter of The Eight: Reindeer Monologues and Seven Santas may be just the thing to spike their eggnog.
Both productions run through Dec. 20. See Times Table for information.