Nathan Keepers in The Santaland Diaries. Photo by Bill Brymer.
The Santaland Diaries
By David Sedaris
Directed by Meredith McDonough
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents copyright © 2017 by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
If you only know The Santaland Diaries from the 1996 essay by David Sedaris, you may be surprised that it has endured for years as a hilarious stage monologue. It would also mean you’ve lived under a rock because it seems that multiple theater companies within the same area seem to put it up every year around this time!
Sedaris first published the essay in his collections Barrel Fever and Holidays on Ice and performed it himself on NPR’s This American Life way back in 1992. That recording is probably still the best way to experience it, as I’ve never seen another actor quite do justice to Sedaris’ own wry, weary delivery of the tale.
Currently, Actors Theater of Louisville is presenting it this month in their Victor Jory Theatre, and I must say actor Nathan Keepers gives it one of the best portrayals I’ve seen.
The play recounts Sedaris’ experiences of arriving in New York with dreams of writing for One Life to Live, only to have to settle for the only job hiring: wearing an elf costume and performing various and sundry duties in the titular winter wonderland at Macy’s Department store. You don’t have to have had quite the same experience to relate to his tales of woe; anyone who has ever worked any level of customer service can feel his pain as his story unfolds.
Keepers wisely avoids doing a straight-up impersonation of Sedaris, whose voice and mannerisms are inimitable. But he does resemble the writer physically and performs the piece with varied levels of stoicism and mania; pulling up a chair to get chatty with an audience member one moment, and screaming in frustration the next. A very nuanced performance, owing a lot, I’m sure, to the efforts of director Meredith McDonough.
The smallness of the Victor Jory works well to give a certain level of claustrophobia to the proceedings, and set designer William Boles has made clever use of the sparseness of the space. Starting out as a completely empty black box, there are trap doors all over the walls that Keepers opens from time to time to pull out costumes, props, and set pieces until by the end of the play the place really looks like a battered Christmas display in a department store on Christmas Eve!
Not exactly family friendly, as f-bombs and curse words abound, but this is a fun and cynical alternative to the usual Christmas fare that abounds this time of year, and the adventurous yuletide theater-goer should check it out!
The Santaland Diaries
December 1 – 23, 2017
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 12 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.