Bear Brummel. Photo by Andrew McCawley.
The Santaland Diaries
By David Sedaris
Adapted for Stage by Joe Mantello
Directed by Meredith McDonough
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2018 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
If you have been even remotely close to a mall and/or department store during the Holiday season, you know well the Scene. Often found within the center of the shopping hub-bub and cleverly placed near the toys, an onslaught of seasonal scenery is in sight: adorable gingerbread houses, cotton-candy like “snow” drifts that are replete with gumdrops and woodland creatures and candy canes that are 4-8 feet tall that line a snow-covered road where you are assisted by happy helpers that support and guide your way. And we all know to whom that road leads…Santa Claus!!! Oh, the excitement builds just thinking about visiting with Ol’ St. Nick, or is that anxiety and nausea?
Humorist David Sedaris takes the audience on a sardonic sleigh ride through the eyes of Crumpet, a New York City Macy’s Holiday Elf. In this one act, one man play we get to experience the highs and lows of what life is like as an elf-for-hire through the eyes of a wannabe actor who answers the classified ad for the coveted seasonal job.
Upon getting hired our actor goes through a rigorous and thorough training session among a throng of people who are there for a myriad of reasons: some are supplementing their income, for some this is their only income and some are there because they love the experience. As the training comes and goes our newly minted Elf is named and assigned his uniform. Crumpet, the Elf, is bedecked in the finest candy cane stockings, elf-ified Converse tennis shoes, velvet jacket and shorts, a large bow and a hat that is reminiscent of a Hershey Kiss. Nice job by costume designer Mike Floyd.
New, bewildering observations and revelations become a common occurrence for our little elf. He talks of the different areas of the store that one may find a Helper Elf: at a register, or along the “Oh My God” corner, or even the Magic Mirror. As Crumpet moves along the different tasks he gets to know his Elf co-workers and shares many of their eccentricities. And there are many.
And as the days get longer in the retail world as Christmas gets closer, Crumpet’s composure seems to wane a little bit, too. Is it because he has, over the course of a few short weeks, seen some families that lack human decency? Could be. Or how about adults who act younger than the children that they accompany? Perhaps. Is there anything that can bring about the spirit of Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All Men back to the forefront and put a bounce back into Crumpet’s step and a smile to his face? Sometimes the answers come when you least expect it,
From the hidden doors of the Victor Jory Theatre to the delightful furniture and props used throughout, including an adorable sleigh filled with penguins and a Barbra Streisand shrine, Scenic Designer William Boles has nailed it. The Production team brought a beautiful onslaught of dazzling lights (Paul Toben) and sound (Paul Doyle), as well. There were a couple of times that Crumpet had to almost shout to be heard over some music. Even with that glitch, it was all very, very clever.
Under the assured direction of Meredith McDonough, Bear Brummel’s interpretation of Crumpet was scrumptious. He connected to the audience with purpose and familiarity, even interacting with many audience members as in one on one conversation as if they were in line to see “The Big Guy”. With quick wit and movement, he kept the pace of the play at an almost breakneck speed. Just right for this semi-autobiographical story.
As Santaland Diaries is a look at life in New York City, I don’t know why some of the references couldn’t be updated to reflect more current times. Unless you are of a certain age group, would you know who Walter Cronkite is? Even if the phrases aren’t altered for 21st Century pop culture, it does not take away from how incredibly funny and entertaining this show is.
Hop, skip, jump, ski, or bobsled to Actors Theatre and immerse yourself into the fun and exciting The Santaland Diaries. I don’t think you’ll look at Santa and his elves in the same way again.
The Santaland Diaries
November 15 – December 23, 2018
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.