December 1, 2010
Jeff Goode's satire is at once a spoof of Santa's famed octet and other characters from the annual 1960s claymation TV special "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and a scathing diatribe aimed at the commercialization of the winter holidays. The 1994 script also takes stabs at the media, pop culture, politics, you name it.
For the Chance Theater, "The Eight" has become a cottage industry, with a first staging in 2004 and a new production or remount every year since. And as in recent winters, this year features different actors rotating in and out of nearly every role, meaning that practically no two performances will be alike.
That factor combines with Goode's raunchy text and director Oanh Nguyen's encouragement of off-the-cuff improvisation to yield a show that plays like Santa's Workshop meets The Comedy Club.
Several actors approach their monologues like a stand-up comedy routine, a course that pays off handsomely. And even those who take a less potent comedic path still veer pleasingly close to the mark.
It would be a cinch for Bob Simpson to portray Cupid, an openly gay buck, as a clichˇd flamboyant. Instead, he adds layers of subtlety and an arch, knowing delivery befitting a seasoned veteran stand-up comic skillfully working a room with ease. Adding to the merriment of this well-scripted monologue are Simpson's glittery red-and-gold robe, his French/quasi-Cuban accent and a quizzical expression that goes miles in garnering laughs.
Thankfully, Emily Clark takes a similar route with Vixen - thankfully in that her character is the focus of Goode's Vixen-raped-by-Santa back story.
As her Playboy centerfold-like Vixen scoffs at the notion she invites sex because she craves male attention, Clark's Valley Girl inflections give Goode's lines an absurdly whimsical ring. Like Simpson, her accent, delivery and personality traits blend seamlessly into a credible whole.
Alex Bueno works successfully in the same general mode in her startlingly effective cross-gender portrayal of Comet, one of the few star reindeer to fiercely defend Santa, who helped him kick drugs, get into rehab and get clean. In Bueno's hands, Comet's a tough, saucy Chicano with a black mustache, baggy shorts and plaid shirt over a white tee-shirt. Her pungent dialect puts a bizarrely funny comic twist on the young buck's effusive praise of Saint Nick.
Jocelyn A. Brown's reading of Blitzen runs counter to a stand-up comedy style but is strikingly original. While underscoring the doe's militant brand of feminism ("Why are we treated like a piece of venison?"), Brown adds a fresh spin to the character by using a tart, piquant Irish accent, suggetive of the Irish Republican Army, and a costume that mixes the Gaelic with contemporary Goth/punk/heavy metal.
Kyle Cooper also adds new breath to "Hollywood" (a.k.a. Prancer), His blue eyes blazing with cynicism, Cooper's Prancer is endearing despite his vanity, his prima donna embittered by Rudolph's fame and success while he vainly seeks the spotlight in uninspired big-budget Tinseltown flops. His workout garb, shades and designer bottled water mock celebs everywhere.
The challenge for Casey Long, who has cornered the market on the role of Dasher ("first reindeer"), is to find new shadings therein. This year's version features macho bluster, three-day stubble and a raspy good-old-boy accent. Still, his biggest laughs come courtesy of the character's trademark swagger.
Sarah Moreau and Lewis Crouse garner considerable mileage from soliloquies whose tones run slightly counter to the rest of Goode's script. Dancer is an ex-ballerina who stumbled into her current North Pole job, and Moreau's m.o. is to make her sunny, cheerful and adorably clueless.
Like Vixen, Crouse's Donner, the evening's penultimate monologue, gets at the more serious, meditative heart that beats beneath the script's surface. Rudolph's dad, he tells us, was "an out-of-work herd deer" when he parlayed Santa's desire for Rudolph's glowing proboscis to lead the team into semi-careers for himself and his only child.
With his cracking voice, stogie and seedy appearance, Crouse's Donner is one part protesting crackpot, one part vaudeville comic, and all parts once-hopeful, now-bitter parent who lived vicariously through his offspring.
Nguyen wisely keeps things current with references (among others) to Meg Whitman, "Glee," "Avatar" and "Jersey Shore." However you take this brisk, breezy staging, be sure to savor it as an often vulgar, very adult spin on some Baby Boomers' most-beloved Christmas characters - the spice on a menu of often otherwise bland holiday fare. Contact the writer: email@example.com