Is everything and everyone gay? My gosh, heavens to Betsy (whoever Betsy is), it sure does seem like it! Indeed, here comes Santa Claus Is Coming Out, a new comedy written by and starring Jeffrey Solomon, produced by Diverse City Theater Company, Penguin Rep Theatre and Shotgun Productions.
Not that a title as racy and ribald as Santa Claus Is Coming Out should give it all away — no, there’s more to this down-the-chimney “mock-u-drama” than meets the eye (gay or straight). Not only does Solomon (who won a Jefferson Award in Chicago for his acting) posit the jolly idea that ever-rotund Santa is a ho-ho-homosexual, he imagines what would occur should the man wind up exposed as such to the hitherto unsuspecting public. In what ends up touted as “Santa-gate,” the play features interviews with the players in this stub-the-mistletoe scandal, including Mrs. Claus; a hate-mongering Anita Bryant-type named Mary Ellen Banfield; a little boy named Gary, whose heartfelt letter to Santa tugs at everybody’s heartstrings; a fellow named Sidney Green, “a little Jew who saved Christmas”; and St. Nick’s truest love, a certain toymaker of Italian descent named Giovanni Geppetto. No lie.
Directed by Joe Brancato — artistic director of the aforementioned Penguin Rep — Santa Claus Is Coming Out runs Dec. 4-20 at the Kirk Theatre (410 W. 42nd St.). For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit www.ticketcentral.com.
And now, 5 questions Jeffrey Solomon has never been asked – and a bonus question:
1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
Someone once asked me about Santa Claus Is Coming Out — why the Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer character is played (and written) so close to me as a person (while all the other characters in the play are such a wacky grabbag, spanning the age, gender, ethnic and elf spectrum.)
I really had to think about that one. And I guess out of all the characters in the play, I most identify with Rudolph.
He is made to feel different as a kid. As a Jewish kid growing up in a town that hardly had any other Jewish families and then as a gay kid at a time when that just wasn’t talked about (at least in way that was remotely positive), I was very drawn to the Rudolph characte. Though I must say I was a little pissed when Santa recognizes Rudolph’s worth only when his red nose proves to be of some value to the workshop.
I always wanted Rudolph to tell Santa, “Oh, now you need me…well go F yourself.” The Rudolph in my play definitely grows up with a bit of a chip on his shoulder because of the sting of exclusion he encountered in his formative years and dedicates his life to making his world more inclusive by forming the “Misfit Task Force” and leading the charge to break the color line and open up Santa’s workshop to elves of color, put in access ramps throughout the complex, and to broker a deal with the chief rabbis of the reform movement so that Jewish children can be included in Santa Claus’ toy delivery.
That is more or less what I have tried to do with this play, and most of my work: explore differences, break down barriers, make my world more inclusive.
When they don’t let you play in any reindeer games, then you makeup your own!
2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
A reporter, who shall remain nameless, interviewed me about my other solo play Mother/Son, a largely autobiographical piece about my relationship with my mom, which I wrote in the aftermath of death…something I made clear during the interview.
He then went on to ask me, “What does your mother think of the play?”
“Well,” I said, “she loves the play, except at the end, where she dies. She’s waiting for a rewrite.”
3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
Someone asked me if I have a sexual thing for Santa Claus. And the answer is NO.
My love for Santa is purely platonic. The sex and romance I leave to Santa’s lover and longtime companion, Geovanni Geppetto.
4) So Mrs. Claus is Santa’s beard? Did Santa already have a beard? Does this make her Santa’s beard’s beard? And how did you find out about Santa’s secret life, anyway?
During the holiday season one year, I met an aging Latino queen by chance at the Monster, the venerable gay bar off of Sheridan Square. The man’s name, Jose Calderon (a former female illusionist of some renown) burst out laughing hysterically when he saw an image of Santa Claus with Mrs. Claus on the television. Now, though I am a Jew, I am a Santa lover since childhood and so demanded to know what was so funny. And Jose spilled out a tale of a closeted Santa Claus who frequented village bars in the ’60s and was called by others on the scene “Santa Closet” because, as Jose put it, “She was always trying to be so butch, but that outfit…. She was a big, fat gay girl.”
Frankly, the whole thing seemed absolutely preposterous to me, but Jose asked me some questions that made me begin to really wonder. Why was St. Nicholas decanonized by the Catholic Church in 1969 (the same year as the Stonewall riots)? Why do we never see him? Why does he only come at night? Why does he live on the North Pole beyond the reach of civilization? I got to thinking maybe he had something to hide.
Jose swore on his life that Mrs. Claus was actually a little known character actress from the thirties, and after many late nights searching through the archives at the Performing Arts Library, I found proof: a newspaper clipping from a terribly reviewed stage play about a deadly hurricane called The Big Blow. And there, with windswept hair, staring at me from the microfilm, was unmistakably the face of a much younger Mrs. Claus.
I soon discovered she was hired by Santa’s agent to portray Claus’ wife and act as his beard to the workshop’s massive sponsorship deal with Coca-Cola.
5) The panoply of characters in your theatrical mock-u-mentary sound pretty compelling — like Sidney Green, “the Jew who stole Christmas.” Frankly, some folks think Sidney found Christmas on deep discount at Wal-Mart. But perhaps the most interesting one of all is Mary Ellen, “who evokes a 21st century Anita Bryant.” Darling, wasn’t the real one nightmarish enough? Is she redeemable? What goes into her Christmas stocking?
Is she redeemable? No, Mary Ellen Banfield is a vicious opponent to the end. In another version of the play, I had her heart growing three full sizes when she heard the little children singing, despite her successful effort to ban Claus from the skies…. Sounds familiar, no?
But the current Mary Ellen lives in the real world with us and she is unfortunately not going anywhere. Though she is just a fictional construct, I see her prototype hollering “Protect the Children!!!!” in the ongoing culture war on gay marriage.
She should be feared, respected, and dealt with.
6) The whole premise of your play makes me wonder what Santa means by naughty and nice. Are you, with this play, going to create an entire generation of very naughty boys and girls? If not, why not?
NO. I hope the reverse is actually true. I grew up in a generation without any visible gay role models, and so when I realized I had same-sex sexual and romantic feelings, I felt alone and “naughty.” I really hope we are moving towards a world where gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are visible enough that young children will never internalize any shame because the subject is still tinged with secrecy or is taboo in any way.