Ah, the Christmas season. The angelic sounds of carols wafting through the city. The wide-eyed faces of innocent young children, eagerly anticipating the most wonderful day of the year. The merry jangle of sleigh bells. The bright lights shining from a thousand trees. The jolly laugh of a thousand St. Nicks, warming the hearts of a million holiday shoppers.
Doesn't it all just make you want to kill someone?
A new play at the Vortex Theatre captures the contemporary spirit of Christmas in all its glossy, greedy, hyper-corporate emptiness. Joe Montello adapted The Santland Diaries for the stage from a short story by David Sedaris. The play tells the immensely entertaining story of a 33-year-old aspiring actor suffering from an unhealthy obsession with the soap opera One Life to Live who scores a holiday job as an elf at Macy's Santaland.
The experience is as humiliating as it sounds, maybe more so. The actor gives himself the elf-name Crumpet, puts on an embarrassing, green velvet elf suit, receives detailed instructions on how to prance and be merry, then is set loose in Santaland with orders to spread holiday cheer among the armies of brats who swamp the store with loud demands for trendy, high-priced toys.
Local actor Ross Kelly plays the not-so-merry Crumpet, relating his experiences to us in the form of an angry, antic monologue. If you're familiar with Sedaris' brilliant storytelling style, you'll recognize the fast, furious pace shot through with dark humor.
As you might already know, Sedaris himself is a grade A fairy. He talks with a squeaky effeminate voice that frequently ascends to registers unreachable by most four-year-old girls.
Kelly, on the other hand, with his scruffy chin and deep voice, looks and sounds like a manly man. In a way, this makes some of the homosexual touches in the monologue even funnier. (One of the most hilarious scenes in the play is when Crumpet develops a crush on a fellow elf.)
The Santaland Diaries isn't all giggles. There are brief moments in this dark comedy when the mood becomes much darker than comedic. When an evil parent begins screaming at her terrified kid to get up on Santa's lap for a photograph—or she'll give him something to cry about—we see the Christmas spirit descend to its most putrid.
Yet although The Santaland Diaries often might be both cynical and bitter, mostly it's just kind of charming. Truth be told, I left the theater looking forward to this holiday season in a way I hadn't until I saw the play.
Yes, I will have to suffer the usual burdens that come with shopping for presents at crowded malls and spending time with grumpy family members—but, on the bright side, at least I won't have to wear a green velvet suit and a pointy hat. I won't be compelled to prance and be merry. When you think about it that way, Christmas really isn't so bad after all.