Worcester Telegram & Gazette
December 21, 2014

R-rated 'Reindeer Monologues' gives sly wink to power


WEST BOYLSTON Playwright Jeff Goode's "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" is about as far removed from a traditional holiday theater offering as you will find. It's raunchy, provocative, and dares to posit the unthinkable notion that Santa Claus is guilty of sexual abuse. With his reindeer, no less.

Specifically, Rudolph and Vixen.

But before you automatically dismiss such a scatological premise with high-minded moral disdain, it's also disarmingly, seriously funny. To say it's not for everyone is absurdly redundant, but for anyone looking for something completely different, and who can see that Goode is addressing sexual and gender politics beyond the surface provocation, much like Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues," then director John Leslie's well-cast production is worth the time.

Specifically, Santa is being accused of sexually abusing Rudolph and Vixen, and eight reindeer take turns telling the audience what they think about such a scandalous allegation.

Mike Casey's Dasher comes across as a gung-ho military type, who considers himself above the vicious rumormongering, and doesn't want to talk about it. He's far more upset that he has been Santa's lead reindeer every single Christmas, except for that one "foggy Christmas Eve" when Rudolph got to lead the team.

Casey is quite humorous, strutting around the intimate stage with macho swagger, dressed in fatigue boots, recalling the years when he flew through blizzards, and bitter that Santa felt only Rudolph, with his shiny red nose, was capable of leading the team through a mere foggy night. Now there's a disgruntled employee for you.

Not so with Cupid, who is the only openly gay reindeer, and as enacted with hysterical, swishy aplomb by Gary Swanson drew some of the biggest laughs on Friday night. Giving the inside scoop on Santa's naughty indiscretions, Swanson's Cupid is a voracious gossip hound, catering to an audience starving for the latest dirt. It's a challenge to write in detail about a show with explicit language, and a prop or two that will not be mentioned, but Swanson does a bit of decorating on the snowman that is appallingly creative.

Bruce Adams' Hollywood (aka Prancer) is the prima donna of the group, an opportunist trying to become a movie star, quick to put down the vastly inferior 1964 claymation TV movie starring Rudolph. Prancer is too self-absorbed to have any opinion on the sex scandal, and Adams smartly and subtly imparts his selfish, wheeling and dealing priorities.

Kristina Fancy's Blitzen is an ardent feminist who thinks every man is out to get her, an attitude that Fancy brings across with measured, haughty contempt.

One of the show's true standouts is Joey Andrade's wonderfully defiant portrait of Comet, a reformed junkie who was saved by Santa when he was on the brink of oblivion. Telling the audience that "Santa saved my life," Comet refuses to believe that his beloved savior could be capable of such moral turpitude. Andrade wrings a great deal of surprising laughter out of Comet's earnest tirade, maybe because, as with everyone in the cast, the toy antlers perched on top of his head help make the unsavory subject matter more amusingly accessible.

Melissa Braconnier's Dancer is a ditzy former ballet instructor who rambles on about her former career, with an occasional pause to collect her thoughts. Swanson, wearing a John Deere baseball cap, shows off his considerable versatility as Rudolph's father, Donner. In the most sobering monologue, we learn that Donner is essentially a loser who hoped that Rudolph would amount to something, and planned to live his life vicariously through his son, until Santa took advantage of Rudolph and damaged him for life.

Which brings us to Vixen's monologue, delivered by Carol Allard Vancil with brilliant, unbridled tell-all relish. Corseted in black Playboy bunny leather, she's the Hester Prynne of this unnerving, hilarious, anti-traditional creation, a sexual victim who calls out Santa in every unfiltered way possible, using past shame as a tool for empowerment. Vancil will hold you in thrall with her sexually-charged performance.

It's an indelible conclusion to an unusual, and unusually entertaining, evening.