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BWW Reviews: Diversionary's SANTA CLAUS is Terrific

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Santa Claus Is Coming Out
written & performed by Jeffrey Solomon
directed by Joe Brancato
Diversionary Theatre
through December 21

An intelligently imaginative turn, Jeffrey Solomon's one-man play Santa Claus Is Coming Out @ the Diversionary in San Diego may cause controversy among conservatives but is certainly a milestone in the acceptance of gay rights. Gay bashing is not a new issue in schools; in fact, Solomon first presented this piece in Chicago in 2001 as a protest to the manner in which the educational system has been dealing with young gay students. They deserve to be treated as human beings and accepted for who they are. And who knows for sure whether great icons like Santa, a pegan outcast in Christian philosophy, wasn't homosexual as well?

Solomon ingeniously plays over a dozen characters in documentary style as he presents Gary Grey, a little boy, who asks Santa for a Brenda Ann doll, only to receive a truck instead. His irate father and bewildered mother refuse to give in to his choices, but when he does finally get a Dream Date Norm doll for his consistent efforts at being a good little boy, dark suspicions are cast on Santa Claus and school psychologist Mary Ellen Banfield of FAGA (Families Against the Gay Agenda) begins a superficial investigation which destroys the image of the myth. There is an uproarious puppet sequence here of Banfield's wickedly dishonest enactment of what supposedly happened when Santa enticed Gary onto his lap with a candy cane.

This is a story about Gary, but it is also a story about Santa. That is the beauty of this piece, that it manages to cleverly bring two divergent stories together to make its point and at the same time entertain. Santa's history of sealing a deal with Coca Cola in 1929 provided him a job as spokesperson for the soft drink, a chance to uphold his image, and an economical one to save his workshop. Due to the eventual emergence of Santa's homosexual reputation and living with a male lover - Giovanni Gepetto, the distant relative of Pinnochio, his agent Sid Green points out to him the urgency of having a wife, to keep his public image clean, so Green sets out to hire classical actress Cecilia Lawrence to play the role of Mrs. Claus. Solomon essays all of these roles and more.

Not unlike Lily Tomlin in Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, the actor, dressed simply in black trousers and black tee-shirt, shifts characters within split seconds by changing vocal inflection, accent, facial expression and using a simple prop like a hat, wig or jacket. That's it! A well-honed exercise in adept acting talent executed with style and flair! Solomon offers quite a brilliant display of expertise. Other hilariously outrageous characters include a gay activist Jose, calling Santa - Santa Closet, an adorable little black girl, friend to Gary, named Cheyanne, a recklessly gay-bashing evangelist Bobby Bucket, a caring elf - "You mean Mr. Claus is a prancer?" and even Rudolph who changes his red nose to lavendar in support of his master's lifestyle.

There is tremendous creative humor in Santa Claus Is Coming Out but what emerges first and foremost, aside from the astounding acting portrayals by Solomon, is a tender glance at the deep-seated feelings of being gay - what it is like for an innocent little boy, and for one living legend who is devastated because he cannot maintain his image as a true lover of children. At one point someone guns down and kills Santa after a UN rally. In the end there's a book in which Santa has outted himself and Gepetto, and his truthful disclosure, to the horror of many, is cathartic, going a long way to help cleanse the souls of Gary Grey and other gay children. Gay bashing is pitiful and unfair, and Jeffrey Solomon makes us really care about the truth and standing up and fighting in its defense.

 


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