A Christmas play without the usual gushy sentiment, one that debunks the
many myths surrounding Santa, one that sends up that often well-worn perennial, "A Christmas Carol"? Rude Guerrilla Theater Company's "A Christmas Closet" is all of these, with a singular focus on gay and lesbian characters as its prevailing slant. "Closet" is actually four playlets written by company members and a fifth by Norman Hudis, whose "Dinner with Ribbentrop" received a vigorous Rude G workout in 2003.
Like many an anthology, some of the evening's ideas really cook while others
are merely lukewarm. Known for its theatrical fearlessness, the troupe in
this instance could have stood to be more provocative.
Hudis' "A Christmas Closet," written especially for Rude G and directed by
troupe artistic director Dave Barton, is among the least sure-footed
offerings, relating the story of one Simon Keith Rouge (Alex Walters), a debt
collector labeled "Skrouge" (S.K. Rouge, get it?).
Skrouge has much in common with the literary world's most notorious miser,
and on this particular Christmas Eve he's visited by the ghost of Marley
(John-Paul Fine). This Marley, though, is a lover who died five years ago. His
mission is simple: To persuade S.K. to come out of the closet and declare his
homosexuality to the world - and, more importantly, to himself.
Funnier in concept than in execution, "A Christmas Closet" is indeed arch
and, at select moments, dryly funny - but it's also heavy-handed and not
smoothly paced. It doesn't parallel "A Christmas Carol" closely enough to qualify as genuine parody, yet Hudis' original material doesn't hold up on its own. Also directed by Barton is Stephen Ludwig's "No More Angels," a bittersweet, deftly written look at a Christmas Eve encounter between a middle-aged CPA (Kurt Jarrard) and a young bartender (Justin Radford).
Ludwig's gentle, subtle observations about human nature give Barton and his
two actors plenty to work with. With a soft voice and plaintive manner,
Jarrard is eminently sympathetic - no more so than in his admissions that age has begun to rob him of his self-confidence. Radford counters with a touchy young
guy clearly terrified of emotional intimacy. In one brief span, each man is
forced to confront his fears, as Barton and company deliver a reflection on
hope, the one quality the winter holidays always seem to imply.
Jarrard and Radford are also successfully paired for writer-director Robert
M. Tully's "Christmas Story #3," a biting look at department store Santas
that in its final moments takes a devastating, wholly unexpected turn. Jarrard
is "Santa A," who greets a stream of children eager to offer up their gift
wishes, while Radford, as "Santa B," fills us in on what Santa A is really
thinking. With a cigarette dangling from his lips, Radford deadpans such curt
insults as "little germ factory!" and "smells bad"; like a cruel sucker punch,
this tale is short and not-so-sweet.
Tully's "Santaism" also takes an unusual view of St. Nick in a playlet
that's only moderately successful. This Santa (Walters) is young, svelte and
sexually revved up for the likes of the shapely Mrs. Claus; hot head elf
Snowflake; and voluptuous German servant Hilda (all portrayed with playful sex appeal by Jami McCoy). In his lengthy rant about what's really wrong with the way Christmas is celebrated today, and what should be done about it, Santa delivers some worthy zingers. Like Hudis' play, though, the play's concept trumps its execution. Aurelio Locsin's fantasy "Christmas Kisses" intimates that what little girls dream about while playing with Barbie dolls isn't necessarily what you'd expect. Directed by Erika Tai and starring McCoy, Walters, Shannon Lee Blas and Barbara Gibbs, it's alternately amusing, offbeat and impudent, but sharp focus is not its strong suit.
The company has collaborated on the festive-looking, one-size-fits-all set,
complete with lighted Christmas tree and gift-wrapped boxes, a wooden
carousel horse and oversized red- and green-colored "gifts" each as big as a
doorway, setting the mood for this unusual quintet of Christmas tales.
Eric Marchese - OC Register
In A Christmas Closet, the Rude Guerrilla Theatre Company retakes the holiday for the rest of us, giving bitter child-hating Santas, lonely twentysomething bartenders and adolescent girls grappling with their emerging sexual identities their very own Christmas story-which is notable, I guess, even if these "alternative" holiday plays are largely unmoving.
A Christmas Closet leads with its strongest short play, "Christmas Kisses," written by Aurelio Locsin and directed by Erika Tai. Sweetly set in the imagination of young Naomi (Jami McCoy), "Christmas Kisses" is a look at what some girls get out of playing with dolls-a safe place where their fantasies can be played out and validated. Returning a sense of innocence to the emergence of sexual identity, "Christmas Kisses" sets the bar high for the remaining plays.
Second up is "Christmas Story #3," written and directed by Robert M. Tully. Here, a pedophilic shopping-mall Santa's hate for children runs so deep that he ends the play devising a plan to violate the pretty little girl ("played" by a 4-foot-tall stuffed doll) sitting on his knee. Disturbing? Yup. But with that sort of taboo invoked, the audience needs to get more for its investment than just being grossed out-and we don't. Tully also wrote and directed "Santaism," but the one note this plays sticks with is the disgruntled, anti-everything holiday rant we've all heard before.
Which is the trouble with too many of these one-acts: they assign an "alternative" or "marginalized" identity to various one-dimensional characters and leave it at that, hoping this will be enough to stimulate and keep our interest. For instance, "No More Angels," written by Stephen Ludwig and directed by periodic OC Weekly contributor Dave Barton, is the story of a couple that meets on Christmas Eve at a neighborhood bar. The patron is drawn to the attractive bartender, and they end up hooking up for what begins as a Christmas fling-but the story's nothing special, even if I tell you that the bartender's name is Michael (Justin Radford) and the patron's name is Greg (Kurt Jarrard). Perhaps especially then.
Written by Norman Hudis and directed by Dave Barton, the title one-act, "A Christmas Closet," is the production's finale; it turns Dickens' Scrooge into a closeted gay debt collector named S.K. Rouge (Alex Walters), proving that you need more than a gay protagonist to provoke an audience nowadays. In the end, Rude Guerrilla, in its desire for alterna-shock-and-awe, seems to have lost sight of the complexity of its chosen task: to produce provocative, aggressively thoughtful performances.
A CHRISTMAS CLOSET AT RUDE GUERRILLA THEATRE COMPANY, 200 N. BROADWAY, SANTA ANA, (714) 547-4688. THURS.-SAT., DEC. 15-17, 8 P.M. $10-$18.