Wisconsin State Journal, Sunday, December 14, 1997

Antlered Octet Sheds New Light On Humanity
Nadine Goff

"A Visit from St. Nicholas" was first published in 1823. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" made his debut in 1949.

Jeff Goode's "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" made its Madison debut, under the direction of Cheryl Snodgrass, in 1994 at Brave Hearts Theater. it featured a cast composed primarily of UW-Madison students.

In January, Snodgrass presented the play at the Madison Civic Center's Starlight Room. This second production featured a cast from Chicago.

Now, Snodgrass and the play are back for a third visit. This time, the production, in the Hemsley Theater, again features a cast composed mostly of UW-Madison students.

Clearly Snodgrass is hoping to make "The Eight" a holiday tradition, though it's not exactly your usual Christmas fare. Its strong, often graphic language, for instance, makes it inappropriate for children.

A darkly funny play, "The Eight" uses holiday icons to look at social issues that are far from humorous. It attacks issues that range from child abuse to sexual harassment. It raises a multitude of questions, but refuse to give any pat answers.

I've seen all three productions, and I'm still not tired of the play. It is always provocative and compelling, often hilarious and only occasionally disappointing.

A series of monologues by "The Eight," the elite flying reindeer team that pulls Santa's sleigh, the 90-minute play tells what happened to Vixen one foggy Christmas Eve.

The current production features Patrick Fernan (Dasher), Ben Wood (Cupid), Joe Weiner (Hollywood), Natalie Buster (Blitzen), Mark Antani (Comet), Megan Ryan (Dancer), Lance Marsh (Donner) and Rebecca Rosenak (Vixen).

Although January's Chicago-based cast was the strongest, the current cast is generally excellent.

Snodgrass elicits strong, memorable performances from several of the actors. She's reined in Fernan's tendency to be cute, and he gives a fine performance as the smug, stuffy Dasher. Likewise, she's kept Weiner from going overboard, and he gives an outstanding, but beautifully restrained performance as Hollywood. Marsh, who has often turned in lackluster performances in the past, is magnificent as Donner, Rudolph's weak but well-intentioned father.

The only major disappointment is Wood's portrayal of Cupid, "the only openly gay reindeer" at the North Pole. What should be a persistent, self-conscious laugh that peppers Cupid's monologue, becomes an annoying bray in Wood's characterization. Despite the antlers, he seems more like a jackass than a reindeer.

"The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" will be performed at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Hemsley Theater in Vilas Hall. Tickets are $10.