Friday, May 27, 2011

SoloNOVA Festival Day 1 - "Santa Claus Is Coming Out" and "Woman of Leisure and Panic"

By Byrne Harrison

This year, I kicked off my SoloNOVA Festival experience with Jeffrey Solomon's Santa Claus Is Coming Out, a documentary-style piece set after the incident known as "Santa-gate."  It all started with a little boy who wanted a doll for Christmas and ended with the most famous celebrity of all, Santa Claus, coming out of the closet.  Fashioned as a documentary, Solomon's play features interviews with those closest to Santa - among them, his long-time beard, Mrs. Claus; his agent; one of his elves; and even his Italian boyfriend.

Santa Claus Is Coming Out isn't exactly what you might expect.  It's not camp.  It's not mean-spirited.  Ultimately it's a charming story about a boy learning who he is, and an icon coming to terms with the effect, naughty or nice, that his living a lie has on the people around him.  If he tells the truth, will people accept him, or will Christmas be over forever?

Solomon is a pleasure to watch as he creates the many, many characters who fill his play.  He is so convincing that it comes as a bit of a surprise when there is only one man taking bows at the curtain call.  Director Joe Brancato is completely in sync with Solomon and does a great job with the material.

A well-done piece about love and acceptance, Santa Claus Is Coming Out provided an excellent start to SoloNOVA.

My second show for the day was Charlotte Bydwell's Woman of Leisure and Panic.  I'm always a little concerned when I hear about a show that deals with the difficulties of being a young artist in New York City.  Often these pieces are self-indulgent and obvious, dealing superficially with well-worn subject matter.  Bydwell's play is a pleasant surprise.  Yes, she does cover some familiar territory - the seeming futility of the audition process, the difficulties of dating, the soul-sucking subsistence jobs.  Bydwell's hook is that she approaches her show both as an actor and dancer.  Emotional moments in the play are often punctuated by dance in clever and unique ways, heightening the effect the scene has on the audience.

Much of Woman of Leisure and Panic deals with time - how to make time for work, auditions, family, friends, dating, and everything else - and whether we control our calendar or our calendar controls us.  It's pretty clear that the calendar always has the upper hand in this play, but as Bydwell cleverly hints at the end of the show, maybe she doesn't really mind it that much.

Woman of Leisure and Panic was a nice surprise, as was Charlotte Bydwell.  I'm looking forward to seeing more of her work in the future.

Santa Claus Is Coming Out
Written and Performed by Jeffrey Solomon
Directed by Joe Brancato

Woman of Leisure and Panic
Created, Choreographed and Performed by Charlotte Bydwell
Dramaturgy by Carlye Eckert
Costume Design by Erica Evans

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