Rudolph, The Red Hosed Reindeer 2009

by Robert Bullen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday December 9, 2009

Yukon Cornelia meets runaways Rudolph and Herbie in Hell in a Handbag’s Ruolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer. (Photo credit: Rick Aguilar)
Yukon Cornelia meets runaways Rudolph and Herbie in Hell in a Handbag’s Ruolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer. (Photo credit: Rick Aguilar)  

Now in its twelfth year, Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer, the campy parody by David Cerda of the beloved 1964 television special Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, reminds us that accepting who you are is a real challenge, especially when friends, family, and that nosy Joan Crawford clone, all want you to conform.

However, if you simply slip into some sling pumps, snap on a pair of sparkly clip-on earrings and sing out a showtune, happiness will eventually follow.

As I've gathered from previous Hell in a Handbag productions, Cerda's special brand of gay camp employs pre-recorded musical tracks with marginally clever lyrics, ample references to "Valley of the Dolls" and "Mommie Dearest," and a cameo featuring Cerda himself as the resident Joan Crawford. If you go for this sort of thing, you'll love Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer. Otherwise, you'll be mystified beyond belief, as my poor theatre companion found himself.

Fortunately, I'm somewhat of a fan of draggy camp, and appreciate the care Cerda and his team have invested into this production, including the outrageous misfit toy costumes, the hand puppet woodland creatures, and Herbie's authentically neon yellow hair (the sweet little elf who only wants to be a dentist--remember him?)

The show obviously has its fans, who came out in droves the night I saw it. And for good reason--it's a fun, lighthearted 90 minutes of fluff. I also appreciate the message that narrow-mindedness exists even within minorities--specifically, the gay and drag communities' bitter judging of those who don't fit the accepted stereotype. Poor Herbie, perfectly parodied by Chris Walsh, embodies this theme, as he struggles with fitting in with the other gay elves who visit the gym religiously, own every Babs and Liza album, and sleep with anything with a heartbeat. Herbie's simple, earnest desire to be a dentist is different and, therefore, wrong. Or is it?

This surprisingly large cast (who must be crammed in the backstage area of Mary's Attic--a highly alternative performance space/bar) has a few standout performances. Keep an eye out for Jennifer Shine, a lovely soprano ingénue with a solid knack for offbeat comedy, who plays Clarice--the friendly female reindeer who helps Rudolph embrace his passion. Also, Lori Lee steals the show as Yukon Cornelia, a role she's played in the past several remountings.

But the show is mostly about Rudolph, isn't it? At least I think it is, but hard to tell with all the silly secondary characters who clutter up the action. But you can't blame Cerda for this one: he's merely reflecting the bizarre structure of the television special, so plotlines are muddled out of respect for the source material.

And as the cross-dressing Reindeer, the lithe, loopy Alex Grelle is a delight as Rudolph. I like that we're not really sure if Rudolph's gay or a cross dresser, or both. He's happy with himself, wearing earrings and hose, and that's all that really matters.

Rudolph, the Red-Hosed Reindeer, presented by Hell in a Handbag Productions, plays through January 2 at Mary’s Attic. For dates, tickets and showtimes, visit www.handbagproductions.org

A native midwesterner, Robert is a self-confessed Chicago theatre addict. You can read more about his addiction at chitheatreaddict.com