This will go down in local history as the year Cleveland Public Theatre slew family values with its parade of baby-doll convenience store nihilists, chattering vaginas, depraved circus artists, and the jaded bon mots of an ancient British pansy. In such an atmosphere, the likes of Ozzie and Harriet didn't stand the chance of two canaries in a cat house.
Just when everybody is trying to elude the disillusionment of tawdry Washington headlines with their Tiny Tim debauches, smoking Hanukkah candles, inebriated strolls through Bedford Falls, and tripping to Bing and Rosemary, they've been thrown into a moral abyss with The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, which puts Santa Claus on trial for conduct unbecoming a saint and jolly old elf. Well, if Washington leaders can lapse in stereophonic sound, if Norman Bates can stab again in living color, what chance have the holiday icons of our childhood of surviving unscathed?
In CPT's cozy basement theater are holly, mistletoe, fairies, and perky elves to show us to our seats. In the powder room is a vintage glowing '50s plastic Santa, showing us the way he used to be in his unbesmirched halcyon days.
One look at John Rivera-Resto's mural of outraged deer consorting with mike-wielding reporters, while deranged elves jig with malicious glee and haranguing lawyers gather at the North Pole, lets us know that the sugar is off the plum and the berry is off the holly. With Santa in the same quagmire as our Commander in Chief, the only miracle on 34th Street will be if he's left a single Barbie or erector set for sleighside distribution.
Originally performed in Chicago, where insolence thrives on every street corner, this prescient 1993 play supposes the trial of an unseen Mr. Kringle as a voracious sexual predator, molesting a Lolita-like Vixen, an act that sends an already fragile Rudolph into mental collapse, hopelessly babbling obscene Christmas carols.
Just as the Greeks laughed their gods off Olympus in plays by Aristophanes, playwright Jeff Goode dynamites secular Christmas--yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, but he's no longer the genial do-gooder of Edmund Gwenn. He's grown to reflect our cynical society as a satyr decked in red velvet, a North Pole Marquis de Sade. Mrs. Claus has also been given the Goode treatment as a mean-spirited harpy, flirting with bucks and attempting to drown sexless elves in a punchbowl when not wearing them as Christmas ornaments. If all this sounds rather perverse, it is.
The ninety-minute action of the play is the courtroom testimony of Santa's outraged reindeer. Dasher is the hard-line old pro; Cupid, the raging, proud, and out-there "queen"; Prancer, the Hollywood wannabe, without a sincere hoof on his body; Comet, the burly conservative, standing up for Santa as a rescuer of juvenile delinquent does and bucks; Dancer, the Jewish doe, forced by intolerance to give up ballet and haul toys; Donner, the put-upon, guilty father of Rudolph; and Vixen, the sleek Lolita of playdeer livestock, who unwittingly fans the flames of the mighty Kringle libido.
These roles are respectively played by Allen Branstein in a John Belushi takeoff; Jeffrey Allen as a flaming Harvey Fierstein Christmas ornament; Tim Coles, a Mamet-like Hollywood sleazeball; Jody Takacs as a Kathy Bates tough doe; Kevin M. Cherep as a curly-haired hunk of a John Bircher buck; Sarah Morton, who has nothing better to do when not writing wonderful plays than her hilarious take on Woody Allen's neuroticism; Michael J. Sobcazak in a Gene Hackmanish supporting guilt-ridden star turn; and Trishalana M. Kopaitich as a sassy and sexy Playdeer, redolent of Parker Posey.
All the eight performers have to suggest their deerdom are strapped-on antlers and outfits in various shades of brown. All eight are direct, vibrant, Saturday Night Live funny, and energetic, yet a bit frightening in their eagerness to trample over Yuletide reveries.
It's all rather funny and bright and a good palliative for Nutcracker/Christmas Carol surfeit. Director Jacqi Loewy and playwright Jeff Goode have taken solid aim and hit many new-age targets, but have the blood of our childhood innocence on their hands.
The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, through December 19, at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., 216-631-2575.