Kevin Gillese, artistic director of Dad’s Garage, was born 35 years ago on Christmas Eve. His mother carried him home from the hospital in a red-and-white Christmas stocking.
“Because Christmas Eve is on my birthday, I grew up feeling totally screwed over with parties and presents because I never got to do much,” Gillese said. (His perspective has since changed; read more in the Q and A.)
Gillese, who continues to have a love-hate relationship with Christmas, has teamed up with his longtime creative collaborator, Arlen Konopaki, to write the irreverent, decidedly family-unfriendly show “Merry %#!*ing Christmas,” which makes its world premiere at the Alliance Theatre’s Hertz Stage starting Nov. 27.
The twisted holiday show, strictly for adults, and for those who don’t get easily offended, features a salty Frosty with gender confusion and an evil Santa who blames corporate greed for the death of Mrs. Claus (and he is bent on revenge).
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently interviewed Gillese by phone about the show, and his views on Christmas.
Q: Tell me about the show.
A: We have a stage manager for the show who is new to Dad’s Garage … Grace Madden. I asked her, “Grace, do you think this show has a theme?” and she said, “Oh yes,” and she goes, “Swear a lot and be nice to people,” and I thought you know what, this just might be it. … It’s about friendship and it’s about love and acceptance and it’s about finding a way to celebrate each other despite all of the craziness of the holidays. Now, I would be shocked if that is what people walked away with. What you see at first glance is a bunch more eye-grabbing stuff. Frosty has complete gender confusion. No gender identity. That’s one of the big struggles for Frosty. And then of course, global warming kicks in, and that’s also a major struggle for Frosty. Scrooge has been brought up from the past, and he gets teamed up with one of the three wise men and they are trying to stop Santa because Santa has kind of gone crazy and is raging against corporate America, trying to take down the machine. The actual events that are happening are definitely silly and wacky.
Q: Do you have a favorite Christmas memory?
A: I don’t know if this is a favorite Christmas memory, but this is what pops in my head: Because Christmas Eve is my birthday, I never really got birthday parties … I grew up with a bad attitude. I just thought, “Man, I got the short end of the stick.” I was really upset. And then I turned the corner, and I don’t know when. I don’t know how old I was, and I don’t remember exactly when this went down, but at some point, I shifted to the exact opposite, and I was like “Man, I get to see my family on my birthday — every time. I just get to be with them and hang out with them, and this is the best.” That was a perspective shift.
Q: What is your favorite part of Christmas?
A: I love seeing my family and what anybody in my family will tell you is I love spoiling the people around me and getting them gifts that make them go, “Come on, Kevin, you did not have to do this.” That perfect thing that makes them know that you truly wanted to do something special. … I got my wife, Amber, big vintage jewelry, and a vintage champagne holder and a bottle of champagne, and I arranged the presents in order around the house so it went 1, 2, 3 and it led to this setup with a champagne in holder and vintage earrings.
Q: For someone who is presenting an irreverent Christmas show with lots of profanity, it sure sounds like you have a soft spot for Christmas.
A: I do. It’s my favorite holiday. I love it so much. And it’s ironic because what I love about it, and I talk about the gift aspect and I do love that, the thing I hate about Christmas is the commercialization. You can’t love and hate the same part but I do. For me, it’s not about buying the gift or a commercial exchange. It’s about being in the moment, showing people you care about them and you are really thinking about them. I really do hate that Christmas starts before Thanksgiving and it’s like sell, sell, sell, and buy, buy, buy and it’s the whole season is not about spending that time and having that emotional connection with the people you care about. It’s about rushing around, and people getting as much money out of you as they can and working extra hours and being stressed and that’s what bums me out.
Q: So there are elements of Christmas that drive you crazy and you exploit in the show.
A: For sure. Christmas is simultaneously my favorite holiday and also the grossest holiday. So whenever there’s a tension like that and that kind of dichotomy, good comedy comes out of it. You have to love it and have compassion for it and know all of its flaws.