December holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Solstice are forced to make their case to a bureaucrat intent on streamlining the calendar. Santa's compulsive list-making may have far more sinister implications than most people realize. A festive dinner gets couples quarreling, while a young man fights his clock on New Year's Eve.
Vintage Theatre decided to depart from its usual mission of staging classic fare and offer something "a little edgy and different" for the season, according to producer Debbie Laureta, holding a contest for local work to be part of A Very Dark Holiday Playwright Festivus. When actor-writer Kurt Brighton heard about the playwriting contest, "a lightbulb went off," he says. "I had had this idea for a while: What if Santa and Mrs. Claus had a daughter who was a grumpy teenage goth girl? If there's any holiday that's begging to be made fun of, it's Christmas." The result is The Family Business, Brighton's first play ever to see production. In addition to acting and occasionally reviewing, he has written two full-length plays that are still awaiting clean-up, is working on a novel, and has several ideas for short stories. A frequent presence on Denver and Fort Collins stages, he's also playing guitar for a couple of the Vintage evenings, in a style he characterizes as "angry folk." "I'm all over the place," he says, laughing, "a kind of ADD child of the artistic world."
The other five playwrights chosen for A Very Dark Holiday Playwright Festivus are Linda Berry, Frank A. Oteri, Laura Coe, Mark Sbani and Jeffrey Neuman, who has created perhaps the creepiest offering — and in some ways, the most intriguing. Having worked in Colorado as both a dramaturge and a director, Neuman decided last year to devote himself primarily to playwriting. The resulting one-acts have won awards and been shown in several places, including the United Kingdom — but never Denver, until now. His Silent Night is directed by Linda Orr and features Elly Fotaki. "Elly brings a really interesting sweetness to the role that I wasn't expecting," Neuman observes.
Of Neuman's plays, the two that have received the most attention so far focus on a theme that fascinates him: the concept of free will. One, he says, "is a silly little piece about two praying mantises post-coitus. Will she or won't she cannibalize him? It's free choice versus animal nature." The second, currently in development with Emerging Artists in New York, concerns an old man suffering from Alzheimer's and aphasia, "locked in his own mind." It's based on Neuman's experiences with his own grandfather: "He was able to recall minutiae from fifty years ago, but nothing from a few days prior. Eventually, he was only able to say two words: 'bananas' and 'bullshit.' It seemed to me such a strange and funny and sad comment on what this disease can do."
A native New Yorker, Neuman says he came to Denver seventeen years ago because there was little going on in his own life and a friend had decided to move here. The friend hated Colorado and lasted about a month. Neuman stayed. "I feel I'm a native now," he notes. But like most playwrights, he's found it hard getting his plays produced, despite the wealth of excellent theater companies in town. "I would love this to kick the doors open for me," he says of A Very Dark Holiday Playwright Festivus. "It's been a really exciting year, the year I decided to pursue this wholeheartedly. And to have something done in the community where I live is really the most meaningful development."