BWW Review: More Than One Door Swings Open In A Funny And Thoughtful Play THE SANTA CLOSET From Houses On the Moon Theater Company
Christmas is fully represented on the stage in the small Teatro Círculo Theater. All is not quite normal though. On the left side of the stage there is a decorated tree with presents underneath. The same thing is duplicated on the right side except this group hangs upside down from the ceiling. Our world and the legend of Kris Kringle are turned upside down in The Santa Closet. Claire DeLiso's scenic design beautifully prepares the viewer for this topsy-turvy tale.
Written and performed by Jeffrey Solomon, The Santa Closet is an update of a 2009 Off-Broadway play. Santa Claus is Coming Out has been rewritten to reflect changes in our society since then. Every word, he promises, is based on real interviews with individuals and creatures. Mr. Solomon plays all of the parts. This story is thought-provoking and funny. The struggles are realistic and theatrical. Could Santa be gay?
Young Gary writes a letter to Santa. He wants a Sparkle Ann Doll. Action figures are boring since "you can't style their hair." Mom tells us that her son is "more sensitive... artistic." Dad always has to play the bad guy to protect him from bullying. The parents are standard issue types but are compassionately rendered to reflect inner turmoils and fears for their son.
Sidney is Santa's Jewish agent. He's the one who got Santa those Coca-Cola commercials all those years ago. He narrates part of this story. Sid is one of a parade of broad stereotypes. Gary's best friend is a young black girl. The elf foreman is a manly blue collar guy. There is an Italian man and a harsh family values woman who hates the "radical alphabet people." Mr. Solomon easily slips in and out of all of these characters as the tale unfolds.
When Gary fails to receive his beloved Sparkle Ann Doll, the next year he is extra good. "I cut all the plastic rings on Daddy's beer cans so the sea turtles do not get choked." His new Christmas request is Dream Date Norm, a shirtless, muscular Ken-like plastic doll. Fans of mockumentary films will find much of the tone here familiar and welcome. The play is agreeably silly with dashes of wink-wink snarkiness tossed in.
Rudolph makes an appearance. He is a founding member of the Misfit Task Force. The name was changed to the Christmas-Town Diversity Committee because Hermie the Dentist thought the word "misfit" could be offensive. One child writes to Santa and asks, "Why do gay people say, you better work it?" When the jokes land, they are often hilarious and good-spirited. Many laugh lines fall a little flat, unfortunately.
The best parts of The Santa Closet involve more serious philosophical questions. Santa was caught in a photograph as a participant in the Stonewall riots. Agent Sid has to hire an actress to play Mrs. Claus for damage control. (Her "nuances have nuances.") The plot morphs into a consideration of the legend of Santa Claus and what would happen if it were discovered he was a gay man.
There is a good deal of crisis imagined in Mr. Solomon's play. None of it seems far-fetched, sadly. How would parents react? The media? Children? Focusing a rainbow spotlight on the cherished Father Christmas makes for some thoughtful debate. Since the show presents this material in a fairly tame manner, families could watch this together and have interesting discussions afterward. The Santa Closet was inspired by the need to discuss LGBTQ issues with children. On that level, it succeeds.
The play is directed by Joe Brancato and Emily Joy Weiner. Mr. Solomon is a game performer who brings these characters to life. (My favorite was Gary's mother with the Italian a close runner-up.) The video projections are very well done. The Santa Closet has good intentions but the story does drag on as characters frequently rotate in and out of the story. Jokes miss as much as they hit. The concept is terrific, however. This modern parable might be even better realized as a mockumentary film with multiple actors creating a campy and insightful holiday treat.
The Santa Closet is running at Teatro Círculo until December 22, 2019.