An accidental Christmas story
Darrin Hagen wrote a Christmas play; Darrin Hagen hates Christmas.
To be fair, Hagen didn’t mean to. The 30-year drag veteran wrote in the initial stage directions for With Bells On that the main character, a drag queen named Natasha, was “dressed like a Christmas tree.” He didn’t mean it literally, but the people he was workshopping with took it in that direction.
From there blossomed With Bells On, a comedy about a seven-foot-tall drag queen—dressed as a Christmas tree—and a “little short straight guy,” Ted, stuck in an elevator. From there, the two must overcome their differences and work together to get out of the elevator so Natasha can get to the Christmas Queen Pageant in time. Ted—the apparent epitome of straightness—is more open than his character trope may suggest, while Natasha is charged with overcoming her own hang-ups to escape the awkward situation.
But even three years of showing the play still hasn’t been enough to soften Hagen’s feelings about Christmas.
“I’m not much for the forced gaiety of the season—pardon the pun,” he says.
Despite his hang-ups with the season, Hagen says Christmas breeds a unique sense of community among unlikely groups.
“When I was 18 and 19 working in the gay bar in town, I ran into a lot of people whose families didn’t welcome them home for Christmas, or people who chose not to go home for whatever reason,” he says. “You always ended up with all these wayward souls stuck in the big city at the gay bar who were creating their own family and their own time to spend with loved ones.”
And that’s what With Bells On is all about, says Hagen: creating a common ground among seemingly opposite strangers—not just between the two characters on stage, but across cultural and age barriers in the audience as well. One of Hagen’s favourite thrills is discovering that “old people like drag, too.”
Over-arching themes of togetherness, a main character wearing a Christmas-tree getup and a play time weeks before Christmas: is With Bells On a Christmas play? Hagen isn’t convinced.
“It’s not quite like a Christmas play, but yet it is … there’s Christmas music playing on the elevator,” he laughs.
Until Sun, Dec 22 (8 pm; 2 pm Sunday matinee)
Roxy Theatre, $20