Transferring this year from the store front Theater Wit venue to a posher performance space at the Goodman Theater, The Santaland Diaries lost a bit of its fundamental grit, but thankfully discards none of its intentional snark. Written by acclaimed author David Sedaris and adapted by Tony Award-winner, Joe Mantello, this irreverent and satirical account is based on actual events that occurred early on in Sedaris’ career, chronicling his hilarious stint as one of Santa’s elves at Macy’s Department Store in New York City. This brisk, one act, 75 minute showcase revels in numerous four-letter-word peppered, behind the scene accounts from a single, thirtysomething, out of work actor who answered a want ad looking for “seasonal help.” The real gifts here are the succession of rapid-fire and contemptuous recollections of day to day life during the countdown to Christmas in retail Santaland. You’ll giggle at the razor sharp zingers, as told by “Crumpet the Elf,” as he riffs on holiday themed chaos and commercialism, crying children and obsessively out of touch parents.
Detailing the importance of “climbing up the candy cane corporate ladder” to droll details of the controlled “forced merriment,” Director Steve Scott and his muse, Jeff Award-winner, Matt Crowle, proved a singular Santa-themed sensation. This cantankerous imp named “Crumpet” truthfully yearned to be a cast member of the now defunct ABC daytime soap opera, One Life To Live. While aspiring to be a pillar of society in the fictional town of Landview, the harsh reality was this under-employed actor was forced to deal daily with racist helicopter parents, demanding photos with a “traditional Santa” instead of a “Blanta” or black Santa, sad and sickly small children, who when combined, sucked all the legitimate joy out of Crumpet’s photo taking process.
The dignity reducing condescension from customers and colleagues alike, mocking the Crayola crayon, bright elfin attire of his seasonal day job didn’t help matters at all either. Adorned in candy cane colored tights and a little green velvet costume, designed by Rachel Lambert, while frolicking on a two-story set crafted by Kevin Depinet, with its large, red and white throne for Santa, “Crumpet” flippantly and defiantly changed his name to “Blisters.” Both those curly-toed, elf slippers and his patience wore increasingly thin while assisting impatient shoppers as the magical day of Christmas grew exceedingly and thankfully closer.
While all the action is explained by a single performer, his derisive comments about his unseen coworkers constantly amused from start to finish. He tattled about a delusional, day one coworker, who inquired if she could be an elf at Macy’s “year-round.” Crowle snickered his way through details of the cramped employee changing room that housed a constantly overflowing commode. My personal favorite, gossiping his way through a story regarding an overly flirty young elf named “Snowball,” who had a slew of potential suitors in tow, all who simultaneous came calling to collect. Uh oh Snowball, it’s not nice to tease a hoard of horny and hungry Mall Santa’s. Lastly, Crowe’s fetching rendition of “Away in the Manger” as sung by jazz sensation, Billie Holiday, was just too wicked for words.
If you are looking for adult themed, sarcastic escapism from the overly commercial and serenely sweet sentimentality forced down your throat in December, you’ll delight at The Goodman’s retelling of The Santaland Diaries. Polished and prodigious, derisive yet hysterical, Sedaris’ formidable forked tongue was brought savagely to life, proving naughty has never been so nice. Top your holiday wish list with a stop by the delightfully snide and wry, The Santaland Diaries.
The Santaland Diaries is now playing at the Goodman Theatre through December 30, 2018