The talented writers and actors of Playwrights 6 are back onstage at Celebration Theatre for the first time in seven years with the latest installment of their popular anthology of holiday/LGBT-themed one-acts, Christmastime Is Queer 4. Despite not even a dash of the nudity that made 2004’s Christmastime Is Queer 3: Naked Christmas particularly memorable, this all-new collection of playlets may well be the best of the bunch so far.

The program opens with David Church’s unabashedly political Christ On The Couch, which takes laser aim at Bible-based bigotry by imagining a therapy session between none other than Dr. Sigmund Freud (a droll Sean Smith) and Jesus himself (a hunky Joe Souza). It seems that the Son Of God has a bone to pick with His followers, who “yank out the Bible and wave it around like an AK-47,” whether they’re protesting “Happy Holidays” as a replacement for “Merry Christmas” or insisting that every Bible verse is the literal word of God rather than the work of “about a thousand ‘as told to’ collaborators piled on—and then twice as many editors.” (Christ on the couch’s words, not mine.) Most particularly, Jesus rails against those Christians who pick and choose one particular Leviticus abomination to persecute and demonize others with, rather than picketing Family Night at Red Lobster or demanding the repeal of the Thirteenth Amendment, per Leviticus law. Directed with a wallop by Kay Cole and featuring two powerful, nuanced performances, Christ On The Couch is potent stuff indeed, with just enough laughs to keep it from becoming overly heavy-handed. (As a sidebar, this reviewer’s Christmas wish would be for those involved to post Christ On The Couch on YouTube, where it could impact the entire country rather than merely the several hundred or so “choir members” it preaches to at the Celebration.)

An older lesbian hires a younger woman to pose as her new girlfriend in Monica Trasandes’ delightful Cintra, My Gift To Me, directed with abundant imagination by Vesna Hocevar. Anna (Paula Fins) finds the Christmas season just the right time of the year to sport sultry Cintra (Nell Teare) on her arm at a holiday gathering hosted by her sexy ex Coco (Josette DiCarlo), who’s replaced Anna with (horrors!) an opposite-sex lover. Once Anna and Cintra have set up the terms of their “date” (“a few walk bys where I touch your elbow” and “maybe a subtle butt rub” to cause Coco to sit up and pay notice), the scene switches to Coco’s pad for a series of vignettes which Hocevar has imagined as a cleverly choreographed roundelay, with ensemble members rotating set pieces to a samba beat. The cast, which also includes Charls Sedgwick Hall as Coco’s new lover Charlie, all shine brightly, and in particular, can the Scenie-winning DiCarlo ever be anything less than deliciously divine?

Laura Black’s Hot Tottie, directed by Jonathan Levit, imagines the power of alcohol to work a Christmas miracle of sorts on two best friends, gay Lance (John Michael Beck) and lesbian Carla (Betsy Moore), who find themselves in bed together the morning after a boozy holiday party. A handful of torn condom rappers prove that a) they not only did it, they did it a bunch of times and b) Carla is unlikely to get either pregnant or an STD. Directed and performed with ample pizzazz, Hot Tottie has much to say about the nature of friendship and of sexual orientation, and thanks to the marvelous Black, does so quite wittily indeed.

‘Zat You, Santa Claus? is the fabulous Larry Dean Harris’s offering, and one that serves as a charming and apt counterpart to the “It Gets Better” campaign, with much to say about LGBT equality and pride. Ten-year-old Billy (played by adult Michael O’Hara) visits a department store Santa (Hall), who just happens to be African American, with more on his mind than a snapshot on Santa’s knee, much to the consternation of photographer/elf Samantha Kern, who’d rather he just get his picture taken and vamoose. Billy’s Christmas request is one that will resonate with bullied queer kids everywhere. He wants not to be gay—hardly surprising considering his Prop 8-supporting parents. And don’t tell Billy it’s going to get better, since none of those videos say how long he has to wait for that to happen. Santa’s poignant response to Billy’s dilemma recalls the days when interracial couples were greeted with the same kind of hatred that gay couples face today. (Or at least this is how I interpreted Harris’ script.) Under Michael A. Shepperd’s assured direction, O’Hara adeptly captures Billy’s oddness, Hall digs deep into Santa’s pain, and Kern sparks things up with some straight-but-fabulous oomph. (This playlet too ought to be on YouTube.)

The evening’s festivities conclude with Amy Heidish’s light and breezy Dance + Deck The Halls, directed with snap by Kelly Ann Ford. David (Alecs Vildosola) brings boyfriend Blake (Michael Taylor Gray) back to his place for some Christmas canoodling, only to discover that his roommate (Christopher Pearson)  is not away as promised, but very much at home and in a snit, having just been fired by the “spawn of Satan’s butthole,” who turns out to David’s horror to be none other than Blake himself. Got that? In Dance + Deck The Halls, playwright Heidish once again proves herself an ace with one-liners, at the same time posing the question, “Might getting a pink slip on Christmas Eve be just what you should have been asking Santa for all along?” Gray makes Blake a seductive combination of Scrooge (a role he’s played twice at the Celebration) and another Blake (Carrington), albeit gay. Pearson and Vildosola both get high marks as roommates Jesse and David, though this reviewer couldn’t help wondering if, comedically speaking, each might not be better suited for the other’s role.

Matthew Brian Denman’s lighting adds holiday sparkle to the production’s simple but effective (uncredited) scenic design. Costumes and sound design, both excellent, are also uncredited. Tracey McAvoy is stage manager. Alaina Gianci is assistant stage manager, doubling as an elf (alongside Kern) in the preshow announcements.

If I had my druthers, I’d ease open Christmastime Is Queer 4 with the frothy Cintra before proceeding with the harder-hitting Christ On The Couch, and I’d have ‘Zat You, Santa Claus end the evening with an uplifting punch. Still, regardless of order, the five one-acts make for a holiday treat that does both Playwrights 6 and the Celebration proud, LGBT proud that is.

Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
December 4, 2011
Photos: Larry Dean Harris

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