Jaded for the Holidays
The Santaland Diaries at The Box Performance Space
Courtesy of The Box Performance Space
There should be a bumper sticker that reads "Take the mas out of Christmas." More gifts. More decorations. More shopping. More debt. The season of giving often means more stress than celebrating, so why not say "No mas!" and hit the eggnog? Or just take a holiday breather with The Santaland Diaries—a one-man, one-act based on an essay by David Sedaris that says "Up yours!" to the mas.
The Santaland Diaries begins with a man sitting in a coffee shop reading the "Help Wanted" section of the classifieds. With a mix of glee and shame, he calls to set up an interview at Macy's department store for a full-time position as an elf in Santaland—after all, the man's got to eat. A few humorously tense moments later, he's pulling on a green velvet elf costume over his head and slapping the name “Crumpet” on his chest. From there, Crumpet (Ross Kelly) takes the audience for a tour of the other side of Santaland's tinsel-coated exterior. Grumpy elves, overachieving dwarves, fast-paced Santas and screaming children torment Crumpet as a voice from the intercom counts down the shopping days ’til Christmas and Crumpet's freedom.
Crumpet's time under the florescent lights of Macy's is a creepy metaphor for the modern holiday season that will prod the Scrooge-like nerve under your skin. The falsity inherent in folds of fake snow and über-happy elves, paired with the unrelenting bid for your dollars is enough to make anyone nuts. And here’s Crumpet, nearly penniless and in candy-striped tights, lying to kids about Santa's favorite kind of cookie. Through Crumpet, the audience gets to look straight into the eyes of the beast known as Christmas Commercialization and laugh unabashedly.
Kelly plays the silver-tongued Crumpet like a second personality. At every turn, Kelly regales us with the secrets of Santaland as if the memories were his own, an especially hard task for what’s essentially an hour-long monologue. This confidence and an array of clever props sears through the entire performance, making even the most potentially boring moment pop with humor. Who knew watching someone eat lunch could be so enjoyable? Kelly makes Crumpet so likable and fun throughout the show that when he proclaims he's not a good person, it's the only unbelievable line in the whole production. Bitter and jaded? Yes. Not good? No way.
But The Santaland Diaries isn't an anti-holiday tale. Although it mocks many aspects of the "holi-daze," it still has that sweet, warming what-the-holidays-are-all-about moment--even if it's only for five seconds. Sedaris is known for his dark humor and cynical outlook, so it’s not surprising this tale could be viewed as an all-out, holiday-bashing obscenity fest. However, Santaland is similar in yuletide spirit to A Christmas Story, only instead of a kid trying to get a Red Ryder BB gun while dealing with bullies and accidently letting out a cuss word we've got a 20-something gay man trying to get on "One Life to Live" while dealing with stupid people and blurting out a lot of cuss words. Crumpet is a holiday anti-hero, the Abominable Snow Monster to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the primal scream while standing in line at Box-Mart. He relieves us from the peppermint-striped pressure cooker by voicing everything we've ever thought but dared not say for fear of killing the elusive Christmas magic. The Santaland Diaries isn't your typical Christmas story, but it will take the edge off even better than eggnog with extra rum.
The Santaland Diaries , by David Sedaris and adapted by Joe Mantello, runs through Sunday, Dec. 23, at The Box Performance Space (1025 Lomas NW, 404-1578) with shows at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 6 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $10.