Palm Beach Post - December 14, 2005

Eight reindeer are mad and they don't love Rudolph

By Hap Erstein

Palm Beach Post Theater Writer

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Did you ever wonder about that abrupt attitude change of Santa Claus' reindeer toward Rudolph after he upstages them all by leading the flight formation one Christmas Eve? Or how they feel about schlepping Santa around the globe on a night when almost everyone else has the evening off?

It turns out they feel overworked, underappreciated, mad as hell and ready to vent. This they do in The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, an amusing series of presentational vignettes by Jeff Goode which has become a popular seasonal theater choice for those looking for an antidote to unbridled holiday cheer and the sweetness of sugar plum fairies.

At Rude Mechanical Productions, the new professional stage company at G-Star School of the Arts, the warnings are out about the "mature themes and language" of this darkly comic play. Injecting contemporary issues into Santa's workshop, it seems that the iconic jolly guy is no saint. It sounds like the reindeer have a good case of workplace sexual harassment against old "fatboy," who may have transgressed from inappropriate remarks to assaulting the comely Vixen. (Uh-oh, so much for taking the whole family to this one.)

Listening to this tabloid exposé of the underbelly of Christmas may not be how you want to spend the holiday season, but Goode does fill in the premise with some clever writing. Chief among his achievements is giving distinct personalities to each of the reindeer, who previously were a generic group known only as Rudolph's back-up. If one of your colleagues unduly got most of the publicity, you might be resentful too.

One by one, we hear from macho naysayer Dasher (Jeffrey Bower), gay gossip Cupid (M. Clinton Merritt) and Prancer, a/k/a Hollywood (Carrie Smith), who has gone Hollywood ever since the release of her 1989 movie, costarring Sam Elliot. Blitzen (JoLen Carlos) is a defiant feminist, Comet (Mark Duncan) is a former substance abuser who remains loyal to Santa, Dancer (Ray Conrad) is a socially committed twinkle toes. Then there is morally weak Donner (Matthew Glass) and, finally, the abuse victim or perhaps the enticer, Vixen (Jill Biegler).

It is a highly dysfunctional bunch, flawed but awfully human for reindeer, and the fact that anyone gets presents delivered on Christmas from this crew is nothing short of miraculous.

The program for The Eight lists no director and judging from the unevenness of the monologues, each actor might have been allowed to direct him or herself. In any event, the men are more successful at achieving the needed tone of dark humor, with Bower and Conrad — two of the company's artistic triumvirate — standing out by not leaning on the comedy. Carlos is blander than she needs be to fulfill her role and, after being talked about all evening, Biegler's Vixen lacks the irony to cap the production.

Although The Eight feels like it might be more effective as a briefer sketch, it works as a welcome bit of rude holiday humbuggery.