Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

The Santaland DiariesVenice Theatre
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of Love Never Dies, Annie and The 1940's Radio Hour

Tim Wisgerhof
Photo by Renee McVetty
Can't stand to see one more A Christmas Carol? Does the thought of another Nutcracker make you break out in a cold sweat? Venice Theatre has the perfect Christmas antidote for you, The Santaland Diaries, written by David Sedaris and developed by Joe Mantello. Venice Theatre calls it "snarky" and doesn't recommend it for kids. This piece has become almost as ever present as Dickens' classic and It's a Wonderful Life. I first saw this one-man show in Boston about 20 years ago.

Our lead character, here called David Sedaris and who refers to his sister Amy at one point, is newly arrived in New York, has failed to land his fantasy job with a soap opera, and needs employment—badly. Going through the New York Times' help wanted ads, he circles possibilities including being an elf at Macy's. Surprising himself, after going through a rigorous hiring process, he is one of the chosen ones. Training takes up the middle third of the piece, and the actual experience of being an elf (named Crumpet) makes up the last "act." It is funny stuff, best for someone who tends away from more sentimental pieces. As I enjoy the above mentioned classics, including a highly anticipated trip to Sarasota Ballet's The Nutcracker in a few days, The Santaland Diaries is at best an occasional treat for me.

Tim Wisgerhof, Venice Theatre's resident scenic designer and now head curmudgeon, stars. Just memorizing it is a major feat, and I saw no signs of a prompter. It is a physically demanding performance, all over the theater and the huge, elaborate set. He does a wonderful job encouraging the audience to participate to a degree and then not get too off track as they do, staying in the moment. His take on the role is toward the crotchety, Scrooge-like before the transformation. Me, I would prefer to sense a little more heart underneath.

Direction is by Dennis Clark, who keeps the show physically open and brings Crumpet to the audience frequently enough to engage them. Scenic design is by—guess who? Yes, Tim Wisgerhof, and it is yet another in his series of brilliantly imagined settings for the smaller Pinkerton Theatre. Crumpet's elf outfit is dazzlingly realized by Jeanette Rybicki who is responsible for David's street attire as well.

There's still plenty of time to catch this show, which will appeal to the non-traditionalist theatergoer.

Venice Theater presents The Santaland Diaries through December 23, 2017, at 140 West Tampa Ave., Venice FL. For tickets and information, call the box office at 941-488-1115 or visit