Friday, 5 December 2008

The Santaland Diaries, Dec 5, 2008 ***1/2

The Santaland Diaries
By David Sedaris
Auspicious Arts Incubator, until Dec 24
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

David Sedaris is an American essayist whose sardonic, social observational humour is enormously successful and achingly funny. 

The Santaland Diaries, about Sedaris’s humiliating season working as a Christmas Elf in Macy’s New York, rocketed him to success when first broadcast on public radio in 1992. The stage adaptation by Joe Mantello is a Christmas institution in the UK and USA.

Picture this: a grown man in a green Christmas elf suit including pantaloons, curly-toed slippers and a huge hat with a bell. Russell Fletcher plays Crumpet (The thinking woman’s Crumpet?) the Elf and he has the audience howling with laughter for an hour.

The show begins with Sedaris’s wry self-deprecating humour as he describes being a hopeful writer newly arrived in the Big Apple hoping to meet his favourite soap opera stars. When, shame-faced and poverty-stricken, he answers the “Be a Christmas Elf” job ad, he undergoes an absurd interview process rigorous enough for a Managing Director.

Anyone who has ever taken a child to visit Santa knows the horrors of queuing for hours, dealing with hysterical children and overwrought parents. Sedaris captures the nightmare that is Christmas for both elves and families and Fletcher inventively recreates the entire fake-snow-filled retail world.

Fletcher, directed by John Paul Fischbach, (OK) peoples the stage with characters. As the shopping days count down to Christmas, we experience Elf training school at Macy’s where the dysfunctional meet the aspirational. There is Snowball, the sweet-faced boy elf that shamelessly flirts with the Santas and elves. There is the dad who lugs tons of video equipment to get the perfect pictorial record of the Santa visit. There are racist, white trash parents, black parents who think the “Santa of colour” is not black enough and the angry and out of control parents.

Fletcher portrays the parade of Santas who do shifts inside Santa’s Shack in Santaland. There is sleazy Santa who hits on young mums; speedy, efficient Santa who rushes kids on and off his knee; irrelevant, bored and funny Santas. But it is the final Santa that brings true Christmas cheer to his visitors and captures Crumpet’s heart – and ours.

By Kate Herbert

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