“Santa Claus is Coming Out” is a surprisingly successful satire
You’ll have to forgive me for initially thinking “Santa Claus is Coming Out” was another in the long string of sophomoric holiday shows that grace Off- and Off-Off Broadway this time of year. You know, the kind of show that for a cheap laugh or two allows an audience to revel in Yuletide irony. That’s usually good for a “Ho Ho Ho” or two, but irony is seldom sustainable for an entire evening.
Given its trappings and promotion — including the half-naked young man selling commemorative ornaments in the lobby and making crude comments about “my balls” — it’s wonderfully surprising that Jeffrey Solomon’s short one-man show, which he also performs, is such an engaging, effective, and political piece of satire that is also a heartwarming, alternative holiday tale. The show is structured as a documentary about Santa’s discovery that he’s gay, his early attempts to appear straight, and the media frenzy that attends the revelation of his “dark” side.
Along the way we hear from Santa’s agent, an evangelical preacher, the leader of an anti-gay group, a nine-year old boy, and Rudolph the reindeer, who as a result of his inherent difference, agitates for diversity training at the North Pole. Through the various appearances of these characters, which Solomon handles with great skill under the direction of Joe Brancato, the story follows Santa as he discovers himself and faces the slings and arrows of a rabid media and the outrage of the culture.
In fact, one of the best points Solomon scores is in skewering the easy outrage that is so much a part of our culture and the ways in which impressions can be built that have little to do with the facts of a case. At the same time, Solomon delves into the cynical ways in which people are manipulated by “facts,” political expediency, and fear. Like the best satire, it is simultaneously hilarious and chilling.
The most trenchant of Solomon’s observations, though, is saved for the effect that banning Santa Claus has on children, who don’t understand why someone they love is suddenly evil — a telling commentary on the ways in which hatred is taught. Ultimately, in the guise of “saving the children,” what’s lost is magic, hope, and spirit, and what’s gained is, well, nothing.
Solomon is an adept and appealing performer, easily moving among more than a dozen characters and making them distinct and memorable. He even does children well, no mean feat for a one-person show.
In lesser hands, the show could be bleak and disturbing or preachy and angry. Instead, it comes off as a whacked-out version of those Rankin Bass holiday specials many of us grew up watching on television. It is ultimately the balance of nostalgia, absurdity, political activism, and a winning performance that makes “Santa Claus is Coming Out” a welcome addition to the New York holiday season.
SANTA CLAUS IS COMING OUT
The Kirk Theater
410 W. 42nd St.
Wed.-Thu. at 8 p.m.
Fri. at 7:30 & 9:30 p.m.
Sun. at 2 p.m.
Through Dec. 20 only
EDITOR'S NOTE: Jeffrey Solomon’s production and performance were sufficiently effective to raise the ire of the ant-gay right wing; a December 8 benefit performance of “Santa Claus is Coming Out” for the Gay Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, (whose former executive director, Kevin Jennings, is being pilloried with lies from the right in his new post at the federal Department of Education) was attacked by Focus on the Family Action education analyst Candi Cushman on her blog at citizenblog.com.