‘Santaland’ captures spirit of the season

Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat /

By Kathie Isaac-Luke

For The Union Democrat

Murphys Creek Theatre is closing its current season with humorist David Sedaris' irreverent comedy, "The Santaland Diaries."

Sedaris, whose humor is edgy and often outrageously funny, has written a piece that is not your traditional holiday fare.

The play is based on Sedaris' essay drawn from his own experience while working for a brief stint as an elf at Macy's in New York. When he first read his essay on NPR in 1992, Sedaris was vaulted into national prominence. In 1996, the material was adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello. The one-man show has since been widely performed, and has achieved an almost cult status.

The play preserves much of the witty dialogue of the original essay, which follows a jobless, 30-something-year-old man from his application for an elf position to his adventures during his seasonal employment.

"The Santaland Diaries" skewers consumerism, demanding parents, rude behavior and other less attractive aspects of the holiday season which can bring out the worst in people. In my college days, I spent several Christmas vacations working in a department store gift wrap department. I think anyone who has ever battled a crowded mall or worked in retail during the holidays will readily identify with the play's theme.

Playing Crumpet the Elf is Jason "Clocky" McDowell. Starring in a one-man production requires learning an abundance of lines and remaining in the spotlight during the entire performance. This has to be hard work, but McDowell is up to the task. He has honed his acting skills in several other MCT productions, including "Scapin," "Into the Woods" and "The Tempest."

McDowell captures his complex character's amiability, which allows the audience to empathize with him - as well as his extreme snarkiness, which provides many of the play's comic moments.

From the onset, our intrepid elf is very wary of this job prospect. He interviews hoping he will be rejected. When he does get the job, he finds the costume and duties ridiculous and humiliating. He resolves to remain above the fray by making wry observations on the absurdity of his situation. Thus, the audience is treated to some very funny monologues about his training and subsequent duties as entrance elf, bridge elf or magic window elf. While children will be children, it is the parents in this milieu who create most of the tension by demanding perfect photos or criticizing the authenticity of the various Santas.

With a fine sense of comic timing, McDowell warms up the audience by encouraging us to participate. He is hilarious as he regales the audience about his job orientation while perusing a large red binder entitled "The Elfin Guide." He is even funnier when he performs a mock strip tease while donning his elf costume.

Artistic Director Graham Scott Green's imaginative set makes creative use of space.

In the forefront of the stage are two stools representing, alternatively, Crumpet's apartment, a classroom, and the employee dressing room of Macy's.

Behind these is a curtain which opens to a dazzling array of brightly wrapped and mounted gifts. This display draws the audience into a holiday wonderland.

In the middle of all this is a spacious chair in which one can imagine a series of Santas presiding, some grumpier than others. This sparkling scene serves as an ironic counterpoint to the pettiness that Crumpet divulges is going on behind the scenes.

Tara Kayton returns to MCT to direct this fast-paced production, and her timing is right on target. In addition to many other credits, she was director of last year's production of "The Imaginary Invalid."

Ross Aldrich's red and green lighting casts just the right holiday mood, and the recorded Christmas music provides a pleasant touch.

As the days wind down to Christmas Eve, Crumpet becomes decidedly more upbeat. This coincides with the appearance of a compassionate Santa who actually has a caring attitude toward the children and their parents. We know that Crumpet will move on to bigger and better things, and the play ends with its own take on a note of affirmation.

Because of its language, adult situations and adult perspective, this play is not suitable for children. MCT has wisely recommended it for mature audiences ages 13 and up.

Performed in the newly remodeled Black Bart Playhouse, with its freshly painted walls and new, comfortable seating, "The Santaland Diaries" provides a merry and entertaining diversion from holiday chores.

With colorful and quirky humor, it ultimately reminds us to not take it all so seriously, to be kind to others and to remember the true spirit of the season.

"The Santaland Diaries" runs through Dec. 21 at 580 S. Algiers St. in Murphys. For reservations, call 728-8422 or visit www.murphyscreektheatre.org.

11910623
The Union Democrat
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