Chagrin Valley Times
December 4, 2008


'The Eight' is naughty holiday alternative

Eggnog laced with grain alcohol. Grotesquely misshapen sugar cookies garnished with bittersweet chocolate. These are the sorts of treats that will be left for Santa after theatergoers see the holiday play being served up at the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre's River Street Playhouse.

Most of the area stages are keeping with tradition by offering elongated Hallmark moments. Between "A Christmas Story" at the Cleveland Play House, "A Christmas Carol" at Playhouse Square and "Peter Pan" at the Beck Center for the Arts, there is enough good cheer and uplifting seasonal sweetness to send most of Cleveland to the clinic in a diabetic seizure.

Counterbalancing these productions and the saccharin-heavy "The Wizard of Oz" on its own main stage, the CVLT has gone an alternate route for its intimate River Street facility. It is presenting Jeff Goode's naughty "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues."

This one-act dark comedy takes us behind the scenes of Santa's workshop and reveals all the dirty little secrets from the point of view of Father Christmas' featured four-legged sleigh pullers.

In Mr. Goode's acerbic and extremely funny tale, St. Nick is far from saintly. He is an exploitative micro-manager, an abusive husband and a sexual deviant with a penchant for young venison. One by one, Santa's reindeer offer their perspective of the jolly old elf and his antics and, in doing so, demystify all that is sacred about this iconic character. This is not your children's Christmas story.

In fact, keep the little tykes tucked snuggly in their beds for this one, for "The Eight" is adult fare. And, because "Noel" is not one of the many four-letter words found in this unconventional holiday indulgence, keep the faint of heart or the easily offended at home as well. This mildly bawdy composite of tell-all exposes is for the rest of us and should not be missed.

Although the Jerry Springeresque theme of this play gets a bit old rather quickly and some of Mr. Goode's lines fall flat fast, the CVLT has found itself a creative team that makes the most of the material. Directing with a twinkle in her eye, Yvonne Pilarczyk allows each cast member to find a distinctive and fully drawn persona for Santa's reindeer. Their individual monologues thoroughly entertain.

Brenda Redmond is brilliant in her interpretation of Dancer as a repressed, increasingly inebriated suburban housewife. Her comic timing is impeccable. Mary Britta Shirring, as a radical feminist Blitzen, and Erin Scerbak, as a streetwise Comet, are equally creative and engaging in their 10 minutes on stage. David Malinowski's depiction of Prancer-gone-Hollywood, Tim Coles' flamingly gay Cupid and Adam Young's no-nonsense, no-neck Dasher are a pleasure to watch.

Jerry Schaber is given the thankless task of providing the only humorless monologue in this comedy. He is wonderful as a guilt-ridden Donner, who regrets giving his son Rudolf to a demented Santa in exchange for the prestige and privilege associated with being one of the "eight."

Kaitlyn Whitebread, as Vixen, the center of the sex scandal that has rocked the North Pole, presents the final monologue. Balancing humor and pathos while generating sympathy and disapproval is no easy task, especially while wearing high heels and a skimpy dress. Ms. Whitebread's performance is worth the wait.

"The Eight" is a stocking-stuffer of a production -- a small, delightful and guilty pleasure. It hangs by the chimney with care until Dec. 13 in downtown Chagrin Falls.