Seattle Post-Intelligencer - Wednesday, December 10, 2003
If you tend to choke on sugarplums, this excursion will elicit laughs at the same time it lets you reflect on that vanquished innocence.
As the reindeer of "The Eight," the elite team that pulls the sleigh on Christmas Eve, dish the dirt on the old man and each other, we learn that not even Santa's workshop is immune to modern sexual politics. The jolly old elf has been accused of, shall we say, "playing reindeer games" that are most unwelcome. You better watch out, indeed.
Toyland's squabbles, gossip and innuendo are the same we find in any workplace. Mrs. Claus, it's alleged, is a bored, boozy old broad whom nobody likes. The elves are all fatuous imbeciles. And what happened to poor, disfigured Rudolph is anybody's guess.
This is definitely naughty, not nice, but playwright Jeff Goode, now a TV writer in Los Angeles, is out to do more than merely shock. He has crafted a series of richly drawn characters who display their vanities, fears and self-deceptions. Drop the antlers and you might recognize at least one of these beasts as your cubicle neighbor.
Reactions of the team to the scandal range from Comet's (Ted Dowling), whose loyalty to Santa is unswerving, to Blitzen's (Sibyl Darling) Andrea Dworkin-style, buck-hating feminism. Dasher (Aaron Allshouse), on the other hand, cares about the institution and the team with the fervor and accent of an NYPD captain. The openly gay Cupid (Travis Bruggeman) trash-talks through the issue, while Donner (Skot Kurruk) wallows in guilt over his red-nosed son at the bottom of a bottle.
A work of this structure, in which each actor has to command his or her own space alone, is unforgiving, and it is a tribute to the Open Circle performers and director Jose Mador that no one disappoints. Of particular note is Marty Mukhalian's expertly paced rendering of Dancer, the aloof and quizzical doe who asks for time off for Hanukkah. Dusty Warren's self-absorbed Hollywood (Prancer's new moniker after his feature-film debut) also engages as he ascribes Vixen's harassment allegations to attention-seeking jealousy.
Underlying this anti-Christmas pageant is some regret that, in this age of conflicting ideals, none of our heroes is left unsullied. That doesn't make for a warm holiday outing, but it does make a worthwhile evening.
Early arrivals are greeted by three slacker shopping-mall elves who stall for time in an improvised preshow that is best avoided.