Off-Off Online - November 19, 2005

Deer Santa

by Jill Jichetti
The Eight: Reindeer Monologues
The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, presented by the Dysfunctional Theater Company and Horse Trade Theater Group, is a deliciously wicked alternative for those who prefer edgier holiday entertainment.

Playwright Jeff Goode's dark comedy portrays a North Pole community unlike any presented in traditional seasonal offerings, but which bears a striking resemblance to shadier visions of contemporary America. Alcohol abuse runs rampant, sexual orientation is a hot-button issue, and a sex scandal threatens the reputation of the highest-ranking official. Each of the eight famed sleigh-pulling reindeer presents one of the monologues, slowly revealing the rift developing in their elite team over the sordid tale that could ruin Santa Claus—and Christmas—forever.

If the North Pole is like the United States, then Dasher (Peter Schuyler) is a flag-waving red-stater, proud to risk his life as the "first reindeer...'No. 1 from Day 1.' " Schuyler's portrayal is the perfect mix of chillingly blind patriotism and heartfelt respect for a comrade who lost his life. His performance sets the show's tone, creating the expectation for an evening of dead-on, though dramatically stylized, characterizations. It's an expectation that, for the most part, is met by the rest of the cast.

Robert Brown, as the out-and-proud Cupid, is devilishly entertaining. His handle on the biting cynicism in Goode's monologue allows his performance to encompass such queer stereotypes as dressing in a mesh shirt and pleather pants and drinking cosmopolitans, without crossing the line into cliché. And just watch him dance to the Bangles.

Jennifer Jill White delights as the self-absorbed drama queen, Hollywood (better known to the world as Prancer), bemoaning the "racism in the film industry" that cheated her of an Oscar nomination for starring in her bio-pic. "No deer has ever been nominated," she informs the audience conspiratorially.

A diva like Hollywood is a tough act to follow, but the next reindeer up has her priorities in order. Blitzen is an embittered feminist who declares, "A reindeer has a right to her own body!" In this role, Theresa Goehring wisely eschews the temptation to overplay Blitzen's rage at the "grotesque, libidinous" Santa. Instead, she relies successfully on a characterization with subtle bite.

As the conservative Santa-supporter Comet (once a "troubled deer" whom "St. Nick" saved from a life among the ruffians of "Hell's Herd"), Jason Unfried convincingly exudes the evangelical earnestness of one who believes he has experienced an epiphany. However, a slightly more defined delivery would not have harmed his laid-back characterization.

Jennifer Gill graces Dancer, a former ballet instructor, with both sweetness and a sense of entitlement—a combination befitting a victim of "a fundamentalist religious movement" that saw deer "beaten to death for wearing tights or a tutu."

Justin Plowman broods impressively as Donner, Rudolph's father, a broken man who has lost everything but his job working for the man who ruined his family.

Amy Overman imbues Vixen, a Playboy model and Santa's alleged victim, with appropriate sultriness and defiance. However, a sharper contrast between her voice and her vocalizations of the people who interrogated her throughout the course of the scandal would have intensified the comic effect. The objective eye of a director could have aided here, but no director is credited in the playbill.

Costume designer Porsha Taylor clearly paints each of the reindeers' personalities with her sartorial choices—especially lush is Hollywood's diva ensemble. The only indicator of the characters' hoofed status is the antler headband each wears. Jason Unfried's set and lighting effectively evoke any human's preferred dive bar, though the bathroom signs are wittily altered to be reindeer-appropriate. Sound designer Justin Plowman adds to the ambience with favorite jukebox selections that underscore the characters' distinctive personalities.

Goode's politically incorrect story line and clever wordplay deliver laughs to those jaded by an overabundance of maudlin holiday-entertainment choices. Despite the show's minor drawbacks, it would be decidedly "un-Christmaslike behavior" to not appreciate The Eight in all its gleeful depravity.


Red Room
Category:  Comedy
Written by:  Jeff Goode
Directed by:  Ensemble
Produced by:  Dysfunctional Theatre Company
Opened:  November 18, 2005
Closed:  December 18, 2005
Running Time:  90 minutes

Theater:  Red Room
Address:  85 E. 4th St.
New York, NY 10003
Yahoo! Maps Directions

Tickets:  $15.00
Seniors and Students $10
Written by:  Jeff Goode
Produced by:  The Dysfunctional Theater Group and Horse Trade Theater Group
Light & Set Designer:  Jason Unfried
Sound Designer:  Justin Plowman
Costume Designer:  Porsha Taylor

Peter Schuyler as Dasher
Robert Brown as Cupid
Jennifer Jill White as Hollywood
Theresa Goehring as Blitzen
Jason Unfried as Comet
Jennifer Gill as Dancer
Justin Plowman as Donner
Amy Overman as Vixen

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