December 6, 2014
The promotional blurb for "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" used phrases like "adult romp" and "eight reindeer dishing about the real Santa."
It didn't mention rape or pedophilia or sexual harassment.
But "Reindeer Monologues," which opened Friday at Newport's Falcon Theatre has all that and ever so much more.
Yes, some of it is a romp. And some of it does dish on Santa. But this 90-minute show - the "naughty" half of Falcon's "Naughty and Nice" holiday offerings - is far from an evening of nonstop laughter. The "nice" half, "Striking 12," opens Dec. 18.
Playwright Jeff Goode's script has generous dollops of hilarity. Hey, what's not funny about eight grown-up actors wearing antlers? But Goode vents a lot of anger, too, as his script swerves its way through the story of a reindeer - Vixen, of course - who accuses Santa of raping her.
With the recent spate of accusations or convictions of public figures for all manner of sexual impropriety - think Bill Cosby, Mike Tyson, Rolf Harris, Kobe Bryant and Woody Allen, among many others - this 20-year-old play has assumed a high-profile relevance that Goode may never have imagined.
This newfound weight gives the play huge dramatic impact. But it also influences the balance of rage versus humor.
Not all of the monologues benefit equally. With director Tara Williams' guidance, several of the actors focus mostly on laughs; Mike Fielder's mincing Cupid, Eric Day's angry Dasher, Terry Gosdin's redneckish Comet and AJ Ford's egocentric Hollywood - that's "Prancer" to you and me. The results, however, are mixed.
Linnea Bond's Blitzen blends humor with a crusade for justice, while Lisa D. Dirkes' Dancer is ditsy and appealing, but is saddled with a monologue that rambles away in all directions.
When he finally reaches the last two reindeer - Donner and Vixen - Goode gives up nearly all pretense of comedy.
As Donner, David Levy explains the misfortunes faced by his "disfigured" son, Rudolph. He tells us how Santa started showing interest in his son, walking him home from school and giving him gifts. Sound creepy? Well, it gets much worse. Levy's performance as a heartbroken father is deeply affecting.
And then comes Leah Strasser as Vixen, the sultry young reindeer who dared to go public with her accusations against Santa. She is reviled by the other reindeer and attacked for her "moral turpitude" on the witness stand. Strasser's Vixen adds a few potent shots of humor, too. Strasser brings a singular focus and intensity to her role. Finally, she erupts in a fiery torrent of outrage. It's a performance that is savage, ferocious and utterly fearsome.
"The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" is far more fun than most of us may want to admit. It's not your everyday holiday entertainment, by any stretch of the imagination. It has plenty of jokes. But it's a harrowing ride, packed with the unexpected from beginning to end.
"The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" runs through Dec. 13.