Theatre /'verv/ presents a decidedly different take on Santa's doings
The Eight: Reindeer Monologues is possibly the weirdest Christmas play ever written. And this is coming from someone who's witnessed an eastern European mime festival.
Something has happened at the North Pole, and "the eight," Santa's elite crew of flying reindeer, are telling their stories to whoever will listen. At first, we get only hints and snippets of information about the incident, which is under investigation. The idea of Santa being a perv starts off with the usual "what kind of old man gets kids to sit on his lap?" jokes, but gets taken far, far beyond that, into the realm of the seriously messed-up.
Not as in "delightfully sick and twisted," mind you. I'm talking fucked-up stuff here. Does the thought of Santa engaging in bestiality turn your stomach just a little bit? Well that's just the beginning.
Monologues starts out mildly humorous, but unfortunately the comedy never really gets funny. Playwright Jeff Goode's script features stereotypes like the flamboyant homosexual reindeer (Cupid), the butch feminist reindeer (Blitzen), and the L.A. movie-star reindeer (Prancer, who's gone by the name "Hollywood" ever since 1989's movie about him). They all have predictable dialogue that's at most occasionally chuckle-worthy.
The jokes are odd, centered on Mr. (and Mrs., for that matter) Claus' bizarre sexual and violent tendencies. Then just as you're thinking, Am I being a wet blanket for thinking that Santa raping a reindeer isn't very funny?, the play takes a serious turn into drama, ending with Vixen delivering a monologue about the horror she endured.
Reindeer Monologues is not consistently funny enough to be a comedy, yet it's hard to take it seriously as a drama when you're listening to a story about rape peppered with phrases like "in the back of the Toy Shop" and "Santa standing there with his whip."
All the fault here, however, lies with Goode. The ensemble in Theatre /'verv/'s production performs excellently. David Barr as Comet, J.C. Conway as Dasher, Lauren Patton as Vixen, Christina Rhodes as Dancer, and Nick Smith as Cupid all give their reindeer characters the humor and the human qualities the play calls for (which is its problem -- it's too human). Jelena Zerega as Blitzen and Joel Flores as Donner (Rudolph's dad), for better or worse, take those human qualities to such a serious, believable degree that they're too good for the script. Zerega's anger and Flores' pain are wasted on this material. Because, again, their convincing acting is undermined by ridiculous references. For example, Donner relates the story of how Santa "saved" Rudolph, his deformed and mentally-challenged son, by using the little red-nosed reindeer in his lineup in return for, er, some disturbing privileges (as I said, it's seriously depraved). As Flores tearfully goes through Donner's monologue, you're engaged in the story until you hear something like this: "It's a struggle just to keep feed on the table."
Pow! You're jolted out of the emotion and the connection.
Director J.C. Conway may have chosen the sparser route in terms of staging, but his direction brings the right details and choices out of his actors. Smith's Cupid is, thankfully, as understated as possible, instead of exaggerated, as Goode has it written. Rhodes' Dancer has a delicate and sad resignation and denial, as she recalls her own near-miss with Santa. The actors' naturalism is commendable, and Conway and company avoid the mistake of lingering on the puns, but the fact that those puns -- and the premise in general -- are even there ultimately makes the actors' efforts at verisimilitude futile.
If you think you can live with the memory of hearing that Santa calls his dick "the jolly old elf"; that Rudolph is suffering post-traumatic stress from witnessing a rape and is in a padded cell "babbling about mistletoe and penises"; and that screams coming from the Toy Shop belong to either reindeer or Mrs. Claus (all at the hands of Santa) -- and still have yourself a merry little Christmas, then by all means catch this play. The more well-adjusted among us will probably find The Eight: Reindeer Monologues to be a warped exercise in metaphor that doesn't succeed as comedy, tragedy, or anything in between.