Drama-Logue, December 12-18, 1996

THE EIGHT (*Critic's Choice)
Michael Sheehan
It's not such a wonderful life at the North Pole this Christmas in Jeff Goode's brilliant series of eight monologues. That right jolly old elf, Santa himself, has ben accused by the vivacious Vixen (perfectly depicted by drop dead beautiful Alisa Wilson) of having his way with her in the workshop. As each of The Eight (Santa's reindeer team, n'est ce pas?) recount their personal experiences, we come to see that the identical pairs of antlered ruminants on the wing are not mere clones, but uniquely individual characters, each with a specific point of view and a major attitude. Goode's clever script introduces us to Dasher (a strong Richard Augustine) bursting into the theatre to let us know that he, Dasher, has always been first. The leader. Number One!! Except, of course that one "Foggy Christmas Eve" when the red nosed kid took all the glory. And, on it goes from there in wonderfully adult twists on the familiar tale of Santa and his world wide Yuletide delivery system.

The cynical Cupid (an amazing performance by Doug Hutchison) tells of the dark side of being different. Hollywood, the slick Jim Anzide, decries the use of animatronics in the making of [Rudolph] when they could have gotten the real thing: Him. Gwyn Fawcett's Blitzen announces that the "sleigh ride is over" and may join the strike against Santa while an overly intense Matthew Allen Bretz as Comet (aka "Skull") reads from notes to spout the party line in support of his bearded employer.

Dancer, a jaded hoofer, played to the hilt by Melanie van Betten, recounts her contract discussions with Santa, showing playwright Goode's wonderful way with words. Bob Clendenin appears to explain that it's not easy carrying the elite burden of The Eight.

Contrary to any notion that this might be strictly a comedic piece of holiday fluff, The Eight exhibits an opportunity to explore personalities from The Far Side with wonderfully anthropomorphic reindeer brought to life by commited professional actors under the expert direction of John Lovick. Lovick's time and energy pays off in subtle and believable characterizatons. The characters are moving and captivating. Hutchison's Cupid is poignant and sad. Wilson's Vixen, while sexy and alluring, at the same time brings the audience into great sympathy with a situation where the effect of being attacked is indisputable. "Think of it," says one of The Eight, "this guy can get into your house any time he wants? He sees you when you're sleeping???"

For adults who have a taste for the sardonic, The Eight is a perfect evening of excellent acting in an excellent play. Thought provoking satire sweeps the theatre, leaving the audience literally shaking with laughter and insights.

Gary Larsonesque visuals are well enhanced by Denise Caplan's simple costumes and three-toed gloves. Cheryl Waters did what she could with a limited lighting system.

For those who appreciate stage excellence, this is a must see production.

LA Weekly

L.A. Weekly, December 13-19, 1996

THE EIGHT (*Pick of the Week)
Tom Provenzano
In Jeff Goode's high-concept comedy, Santa's elite team of reindeer proffers widely divergent opinions and recollections of the circumstances surrounding Vixen's (Alisa Wilson) accusation of rape against jolly old Kris Kringle. Told in a series of monolouges, what would seem like a one- note joke is actually a brilliant satire of gender and sexual politics in contemporary America, filled with penetrating humor. Each of the reindeer represents a societal archetype. A perspective from Dasher (Richard Augustine), the personification of machismo, is immediately juxtaposed against one by Cupid (Doug Hutchison), a freaked-out in-your-face "faggot." Jim Anzide plays Prancer, turned "Hollywood" by his brush with fame after starring in the the movie version of his life. Blitzen (Gwyn Fawcett) is a beautiful, radical feminist who wants Santa destroyed, while Dancer (Melanie van Betten) is a martini-lapping reindeer who can't support Vixen bacause she needs the annual Christmas flying gig. Ex-druggie Comet (Matthew Allen Bretz) and suicidal weakling Donner (Bob Clendenin) round out the team. Goode skillfully interweaves searing human and social truths into his absurd premise, and director John Lovick has his actors play the silliness afforded by their animal personas with honesty and integity. Denise Caplan's subtle costume pieces, accentuating both reindeer and Homo sapiens characteristics, straddle the line between farce and pathos, so gingerly established by this remarkable production.

Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Sun-Times, December 19, 1996

Reindeer put Santa in hot seat
Andrew Patner
You don't have to be Scrooge to love "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues," a devious take on Christmas in a politically correct world.

If you thought that Rudolph the red-nosed was the last word on the North Pole, by all means hitch up your sleigh and head to Zebra Crossing Theatre. But leave the kiddies at home: This wicked send-up is an adults-only offering in which the cheer served up is more Bronx than Christmas.

Playwright Jeff Goode has imagined the reactions of the eight airborne, antlered couriers if Santa were a rather randy fellow and if Mrs. Claus was known for having a few too many cups of eggnog at holiday time.

The eight humans who portray Dasher and Dancer, Comet and Blitzen, Donder and Cupid, Prancer and Vixen (we'll come to Rudolph) offer some of the finest comic turns on stage this season. Director Cheryl Snodgrass and the young Les Enfants du Maïs company have given Goode's scripts a near-perfect production.

The story unfolds through eight 10-minute monologues. It seems scandal has struck Santa's workshop, with accusatons and counter-charges and reputations on the line.

Dasher (a riotously prissy Seán Judge) is the company deer, not about to let changing mores interfere with his role as leader of the pack. As Cupid, the "first openly gay reindeer," Robert Felbinger struts and slithers about the tiny stage. "Take it from me," the knowing leather-buck offers, "Santa was a sex crime waiting to happen." For feminist reindoe Blitzen (the deadpan Inger Hatlen), "the sleigh ride is over" for Santa.

Mr. Claus has his defenders in the court of ruminant opinion. Comet (Doug Steckel), for one had been "a troubled deer" until St. Nick had turned him around. The ditzy Dancer (Jane deLaubenfels), who wondered whether the annual haul offered vacation and sick days, isn't sure that she knows whom to believe.

From Donner (James Thorn), Rudolph's father, we begin to learn the truth, including the destruction of his fragile son's sanity when Santa turned his affections toward Vixen (Clare Riordan).

Kristen Rengren's elaborate antlers are great. See "The Eight."

THE BOTTOM LINE - Recommended - A delightful adults-only send-up of both Christmas and the politically correct.

Chicago Reader

Chicago Reader, December 19-25, 1996

Jack Helbig
By this time in the season the only Christmas shows I can stand are the twisted ones, the ones that acknowledge that the world is the same sick place at Christmastime, only colder. Jeff Goode's darkly comic one-act dares to reveal, from the reindeer's point of view, what a den of iniquity Santa and Mrs. Claus are running at their North Pole compound. Mrs. Claus is a lush, Santa is a sexual deviant who lusts after his deer. And as for poor Rudolph, well, his sweet fawnlike beauty and compliant disposition had much more to do with him leading the team that year than fog. "Some of the freaky shit they're into," Cupid quips at one point in the show, "even I wouldn't touch." This is the third year in a row a company has produced Goode's delightfully perverse play - but it's the first time that anyone has managed to mine the more sensitive veins in Goode's script (the monologue by the reindeer who accuses Santa of sexual harassment is remarkably touching) without sacrificing his iconoclastic humor. Director Cheryl Snodgrass deserves much of the credit, both because she cast this Les Enfants du Maïs show so well - no one actor resorts to the desperate straining after laughs that hurt Dolphinback's production last year - and because her inventive staging, both within and between monologues, makes the show more than just a series of speeches by actors wearing antlers.