Staged in the style of a TV documentary, the show features a host of characters including the actress hired to play "Mrs. Claus" and Santa's longtime companion, a great-great-great-grandson of Pinocchio. Solomon plays all the roles as well as manipulating the puppets that stand in for even more characters. Notably, good old St. Nick is not physically represented on stage; the audience learns all about him through the testimonials of others.
The name of each character is projected onto a screen during his or her initial appearance. Solomon also makes use of costume pieces and a handful of props, which has the unfortunate side effect of decreasing his momentum. Director Emily Weiner could probably sacrifice some of the visual cues that signify shifts in character in favor of tighter pacing, especially since Solomon is talented enough an actor to make the transitions without them.
One of the featured participants in this docudrama is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, who heads the diversity committee at Santa's Workshop. He's the first individual that Santa turns to for support, since Rudolph is no stranger to social ostracism and the stigma of being different. Solomon is adept at giving each of his creations a distinctive physicality and vocal intonation: Rudolph is portrayed as a butch heterosexual liberal who is unafraid to show support for Santa by making his nose go lavender one Christmas Eve.
In a show like this one, it's inevitable that some of the characters end up as two-dimensional stereotypes. A child psychologist who thinks Santa's got castration anxiety and a hate-mongering, Eminem-inspired rapper named Reeses Pieces are just a couple of examples. Yet Solomon is able to flesh out several of the more prominent roles, allowing for depth of feeling and emotional growth. Gary's parents are compassionately portrayed, and their conflicted feelings regarding their son's desire to play with dolls is given serious consideration. Likewise, an elf who grudgingly joins in a Christmas sleigh ride with Santa undergoes a transformational experience when confronted with blatant homophobia as expressed by a preacher who urges people to light fires in order to keep Santa from coming down their chimneys.
Santa Claus lore is cleverly used to propel the narrative forward. For example, Sid Green, Santa's Jewish agent, talks about securing a product endorsement campaign with Coca-Cola to save Santa's Workshop from financial ruin. It was these advertisements, illustrated by Haddon Sundblom beginning in 1931, which crystallized the image of Santa Claus that we know today: a plump figure, red suit trimmed with white fur, black boots and belt, jovial disposition.
Solomon lovingly parodies familiar characters and conventions from TV Christmas specials, but the most remarkable aspect of the show is that it manages to be both thought-provoking and genuinely moving. The revelation of Santa's sexual orientation sparks controversy and attempts at character assassination. Right-wing zealots question Santa's "Ninja-like mode of secret giving" and produce a TV special conflating homosexuality with child molestation.
The sad truth is that many parents are uncomfortable allowing admitted homosexuals to hold positions of influence over their children; but kids like Gary, who are misunderstood and tormented by their peers, crave role models to show them that their feelings and desires are not abnormal. In the end, the message of Santa Claus Is Coming Out is one of tolerance and self-acceptance. Now, isn't that something we all could use this holiday season?
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