Jeffrey Solomon in
Santa Claus Is Coming Out
(© Bree Warner)
Jeffrey Solomon in
Santa Claus Is Coming Out
(© Bree Warner)
How would the world react to a gay Santa Claus? That's the question at the heart of Jeffrey Solomon's charming and gently provocative solo show, Santa Claus Is Coming Out, now at the Kirk Theatre on Theatre Row. Staged as a theatrical mockumentary, the piece provides multiple perspectives on "Santa Gate," triggered by the Christmas icon's gift of a doll to a young boy named Gary who had been continually requesting it.

We hear from Gary's conflicted parents, the actress hired to play Mrs. Claus, a TV evangelist who urges families to light fires in their chimneys to keep Santa out, and even Santa's lover -- a great-great-great-great grandson of Pinocchio. Notably, old St. Nick doesn't make an appearance himself, although there is a puppet version of him that is used in a television program that seeks to conflate homosexuality and child molestation.

Solomon gives each of his characters a distinctive physicality and voice, oftentimes employing a prop or costume piece to make the transitions clear. Many are played primarily for laughs (sometimes in woefully politically incorrect fashion), and admittedly the more flatly written characters are those that deal with anti-gay viewpoints. Still, the writer-performer does allow some depth in several of his recurring characters.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is depicted as a liberal heterosexual who heads up the "Misfit Task Force" of Santa's Workshop. He's naturally the first creature Santa turns to when coming out, as Rudolph has experienced his share of social ostracism. Gary's best friend Cheyenne -- whom Solomon portrays with the help of a dreadlocked wig -- is an outspoken African-American girl who doesn't see anything wrong with boys playing with dolls. Elf foreman Pete initially makes casually homophobic remarks, but evolves to a greater understanding once he sees the hate-mongering reaction that Santa's coming out of the closet has engendered.

The piece lovingly parodies elements from Christmas television specials, and also incorporates bits of Santa Claus lore to propel the narrative. For example, Coca Cola's use of the image of Santa Claus in their advertisements is brought to the fore as Santa's homosexuality causes him to lose that product endorsement gig.

As directed by Joe Brancato, the show runs a brief 80 minutes and yet the pace still drags at times. Certain speeches could also be shortened without losing anything significant. Michael Schweikardt's set is comprised of large piles of wrapped presents, a few of which are sturdy enough for Solomon to stand or sit upon. These help to vary the stage picture and allow Solomon to carve out areas that are associated with particular characters.

The show has undergone a few changes since I initially saw it in 2001. A couple characters, such as a homophobic rapper, have been excised and the framing sequence is slightly different. But the solo play still ends on a sweetly sentimental note, and continues to call into question the kinds of role models that society has earmarked as acceptable to interact with children.