The Santaland Diaries
Also see David's review of Billy Elliot
More than 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to hear David Sedaris read The Santaland Diaries on National Public Radio. I laughed so hard, I drove my car into a parking lot at a local mall. I was afraid I'd plow into someone else who was listening to the same station. In the years since that wonderful moment of first hearing Sedaris read, I've heard him read a the Ohio Theater in Cleveland, the Highland Square Theater in Akron, Ohio, and in E. J. Tomas Hall on the campus of The University of Akron. I've interviewed him for articles and chatted with him when he autographed books for me.
After reading all of his books, I still return to my first love, The Santaland Diaries.
Several stage versions of the story have been adapted and produced. However, this production, which is produced by Cleveland Public Theatre and performed in the 14th Street Theatre at PlayhouseSquare in Cleveland, is the most satisfying. This is a one-man show with Doug Kusak playing Crumpet the Elf in a performance of most of the Sedaris story. The performance runs about 70 minutes, without an intermission. The story starts with the character applying for a job at Macy's. He finally gets the job and becomes Crumpet the Elf, who works in Macy's Santaland during the Christmas season.
Crumpet the Elf, who is dressed like a picture-book characterred and white stockings, a green pants and long green coat trimmed in faux fur, and a green stocking hattells stories. His stories deal with adults who do dumb things in the presence of Santa Claus. Some, both men and women, want to be photographed sitting on Santa's lap. Others hit their children, attempting to get the child to sit on Santa's lap and smile for the camera. As the story unfolds, Crumpet focuses on the parents who make difficult and silly demands of their children. Yet, he never deals with children who have misbehaved. The children in this story are the victims of their parents' stupidity.
At the end of the production, Kusak takes a five-minute break and returns to the stage to pose for photographs with members of the audience.
Kusak has a difficult assignment. He is expected to entertain the audience alone for more than an hour. He has no opportunity to call on other actors to help him out. This is tough work and he's up to the job.
Despite being an excellent production, the show as two major flaws. First, he loses some words, usually at the end of the line. I found myself asking people in my area, "What was that line?" Second, Crumpet plays some scenes in the audience. Unfortunately, he has to work in the dark. I could not see Crumpet or the member of the audience he was teasing at a given moment.
These are problems that can be easily solved with a little attention from Lisa Ortenzi, the director.
The small 14th Street Theatre was almost filled to capacity on opening night. The Santaland Diaries plays through December 19, 2010. For ticket information, telephone 216-830-7221 or visit www.playhousesquare.org.
The 14th Street Theatre
- David Ritchey