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A CurtainUp Review
Glitter and Be Gay
A Queer Carol & Santa Claus Is Coming Out,
by Adrienne Onofri

Hmm, maybe there always has been a homosexual plot to take over Christmas. Haven’t we been singing "Don we now our gay apparel" and "Make the yuletide gay" for years?

Two new shows have fun with this idea. A Queer Carol at the Duplex is the umpteenth—but nonetheless original—revision of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, this time transforming the miserly old Brit Scrooge into a nasty and, in his own words, "foolish old queen"" in present-day New York. Meanwhile, farther downtown on Bond Street, the mockumentary Santa Claus Is Coming Out tells of jolly old St. Nick’s scandalous secret life.

While the shows may find their most appreciative audiences among gays, they’re welcome entertainment for anyone who just can't sit through another airing of A Christmas Story or It's a Wonderful Life. If you’re familiar with the yuletide classics that show up on TV every year, all the better. Then you’ll get jokes like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer's mention of "Clarice and the fawns" and gay Scrooge's angry rebuff to a fundraiser for Broadway Cares: "Are there no hospices?"

A Queer Carol is produced by SourceWorks Theatre, which on the tiny stage at the Duplex has presented excellent revivals of Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You as well as new gay-themed shows including The Velocity of Gary, which starred Dan Pintauro, a child star on the ’80s sitcom Who's the Boss who has two roles in A Queer Carol.

Contemporary adaptations of A Christmas Carol are often played for laughs, like Bill Murray's Scrooged, and while there are some chuckles in A Queer Carol, it's actually a thoughtful portrayal of gay relationships and issues. Ebenezer, or Ben in this version, was badgered by his father for being a "sissy" and grew up to be a self-loathing interior designer who tries not to acknowledge his sexuality. He is embittered by his partner Jake's death due to AIDS, which Ben blames on Jake's carousing and philandering, and becomes a heartless mercenary after buying out former boss Fezziwig.

Playwright Joe Godfrey fills his cast with a number of gay icons and stereotypes: the Ghost of Christmas Past is the Ghost of Marilyn Monroe; the Ghost of Christmas Present is a sassy black drag queen; Fezziwig is a swishy, lisping party animal. These provide some of the funniest moments in the play, and the three performances are marvelously entertaining.

Cynthia Pierce does a spot-on Marilyn Monroe—the whole breathy, cutesy, glamorous package. Wearing the white "subway grating" dress, she even resembles Marilyn, albeit without being voluptuous. Michael Lynch, as the second ghost, is hilarious with his red boa and sarcastic quips. And Yaakov Sullivan shows why, despite protests about such negative images, a flamboyant gay character always proves irresistible to audiences.

Other performances are commendable as well, including Henry David Clarke as Jake Marley (the chains his ghost wears are part of a leather biker getup) and Virginia Baeta and Nathan Johnson in various supporting roles. Pintauro does not really differentiate his two characters, Young Scrooge and Tim—who here is not the son but the AIDS-infected lover of Bob Cratchit—but the portrayals suffice since both Tim and Young Scrooge are the quieter, gentler half of a couple. All the actors are good physical fits for their parts, and those with multiple roles succinctly and effectively rely on a particular quality—be it drunkenness, an accent or a personality trait—to distinguish their performances despite the limited time and space they can devote to the characters. The one performance that could be improved is John Marino as Ebenezer, whose inflections are not always convincing and who seems to just growl his lines rather than "feel" them.

Running just over 90 minutes, A Queer Carol is a tad too long for its venue: Cabaret seating can be uncomfortable after an hour, and the show is a true play rather than the revue-type of entertainment usually associated with cabaret theater. But that's really criticizing the play for delivering more substance and quality than expected. Playwright Joe Godfrey has fashioned a realistic and sensitive depiction of gay life from this old ghost story while honoring Dickens’ message of love, goodwill and charity.

Jeffrey Solomon, writer and performer of Santa Claus Is Coming Out, has also created something original out of familiar holiday legends and scenarios. His "exposé" begins with a little boy asking Santa for a doll. Instead he gets a truck. The next year the boy again wants and doesn't get a doll. When Santa realizes that little Gary thinks he's not getting the present he wants because he's been naughty, his conscience gets the better of him. He is, after all, forcing Gary to live the same lie that Santa himself has been living. You see, Mrs. Claus is really a self-aggrandizing actress who considers the sham marriage a role worthy of her talent. Santa's true love is Giovanni Geppedo, descendant of Pinocchio; he and his "Santo Bello" met through the toymaking business.

All the sordid details are revealed through Behind the Music-Style interviews and clips, which are enacted solely by Solomon. Among his 15 characters are a child psychologist; Santa's Jewish agent; Gary, his parents and his best friend (a black girl); the elf foreman; Rudolph; and Santa's beard (that would be his wife). The anti-gay forces heard from include a female activist, a televangelist and an Eminem-like rapper named Reces Pieces.

There are clever references to the annual TV specials. At the end of the story, the anti-gay spokeswoman's heart grows like the Grinch's. Rudolph tries to help Santa through the "diversity committee" he formed with outcast elf Hermey. Letters to Santa are recited by overlapping children's voices as in "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town", except instead of "Why do you wear a red suit?" they ask questions like "Why do lesbians have short hair?"

But it’s not just the traditional Christmas entertainment that's spoofed by Solomon. He also satirizes the lengths to which the religious right will go to protect children from "the homosexual agenda." This includes a law known as the Defense of Childhood Act, which establishes a no-fly zone for sleighs, and a campaign to get everyone to make a fire in their fireplace and thereby preventing Santa from coming down the chimney. In the midst of this humor comes the recognition that we have indeed seen such outrageous campaigns from the religious right. Even as he amuses us with quick costume changes, sight-gag props and puppet re-enactments, Solomon gets us wondering just what the right-wingers would do if Santa were outed.

While some of his characterizations work better than others, Solomon's ambition and ingenuity drive the show. He has to switch back and forth between personas, occasionally break into song and move all around a set that features a decorated Christmas tree with presents beneath and a fireplace nearby. It's a fine showcase for his talent as a writer, performer and provocateur.

Both Santa Claus Is Coming Out and A Queer Carol give us a reason not to pass us the fruitcake this holiday season.

By Joe Godfrey
Directed by Mark Cannistraro
Cast: John Marino, Dan Pintauro, J.D. Lynch, Henry David Clarke, Cynthia Pierce, Michael Lynch, Yaakov Sullivan, Virginia Baeta, Nathan Johnson
Set Design: Jeffrey Tuballes
Costume Design: Michael Piatkowski
Running Time: 1¾ hours, no intermission
The Duplex, 61 Christopher St., 206-1515, through December 21
Performances Wednesday at 7PM, Thursday & Friday at 7:30PM; $15 plus 2-drink minimum
Opened December 5, 2001
Reviewed by Adrienne Onofri, based on December 7, 2001 performance
Written & performed by Jeffrey Solomon
Directed by Emily Weiner
Set & Puppet Design: Bob Kamzelski
Lighting Design: Michael L. Kimmel
Sound Design: Jason Webb
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Gene Frankel Theater, 24 Bond St., 206-1515, through January 7
Performances Monday & Friday at 8PM, Saturday at 8PM & 10:15PM, Sunday at 3PM & 7PM; $25
Opened November 16, 2001
Reviewed by Adrienne Onofri, based on November 25, 2001 performance

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