A gift you won’t exchange
The Santaland Diaries
Written by David Sedaris
Adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello
Directed by Jason Podplesky
The Gallery Players (www.galleryplayers.com)
Equity showcase (December 1-16, Thu-Sat @ , Sun @ )
Review by Judd Hollander
For those looking to get into the holiday spirit, one need look no further than David Sedaris' The Santaland Diaries, a hilarious look at life as an elf at Macy's Santaland during the Christmas season, and a biting indictment of people who take holiday time perhaps just a little (or a lot) too seriously.
Sedaris' words are beautifully brought to life by B. Brian Argotsinger in a spot-on imitation of the author’s real-life voice (a sort of cross between Katherine Hepburn and Paul Lynde). As David, Argotsinger relates the memoir experiences of Sedaris as a 33-year-old whose ultimate dream is to make it as an actor on his favorite soap opera - One Life to Live, which he watches religiously. Although the references date his tale to the early to mid 1990’s, it’s certain that the atmosphere at Santaland remains much the same today.
Needing cash until his OLTL break comes along, David answers an ad to work at Macy's Santaland as an elf. After a series of interviews, a drug screening, and an unbelievably hilarious series of training classes, he gets the job. Argotsinger takes us through every moment of the indoctrination process, from getting one's elf name (David picks "Crumpet") to studying the elf protocol manual (“a Photo Elf is NOT Santa's slave”) to the aptly-named (and nicknamed) elf work stations: the "OMIGOD" corner, the "vomit corner," and the Magic Window. There's also the challenge of looking happy all the time, even while trying to deal with thousands of screaming kids and their even more unruly parents.
What makes the play work is an expert combination of Sedaris' dialogue and Argotsinger's performance (he plays all the parts in the show) which put the audience right in the midst of the action. Vivid images of parents yelling at their children while waiting on line; an unruly husband making a sexual remark in response to Santa asking his child what he wants for Christmas; or a kid peeing in the faux-snow of Santaland all sprang to life under Argotsinger’s narration. (Not to mention the dirty diapers thrown in the "snow" from time to time, as well as a few racial remarks about Santa's color, or lack of it.)
Argotsinger also introduces us to numerous other denizens of Santaland, each of which comes across as fully formed and instantly recognizable, thanks to some quite convincing vocal and mannerism changes. These include a Santa who moves kids on and off his lap in record time, and before the children have a chance to say anything; an elf who hits on the mothers of the toddlers; one who flirts with the other Santas (and all the male elves); and a Mr. Claus who stays in character a bit too much - so much so it's almost scary.
Except for one very sweet sequence, there is no real feeling of the magic of Christmas in the show. Nor is it needed; Sedaris instead hilariously shows the underside of the holiday spirit, as the entire elfin experience becomes a simple matter of survival with the ultimate goal of making it through Christmas Eve alive. As David/Crumpet (who eventually changes his name to "Blisters") notes after one irate parent threatens to get him fired, "Go ahead, be my guest. I'm wearing a green velvet costume; it doesn't get any worse than this."
Argotsinger is brilliant as the put-upon elf, evoking sympathy, laughter and admiration from the audience. Direction by Jason Podplesky works well, keeping things moving at a good clip; as does Joe Mantello's superb adaptation of the Sedaris story for the stage. Sets (by Michael Wilson Morgan), lighting (Marnie Cummings) and costumes (also by Morgan) all help add sparkle to the work.
Coming in at a scant 75 minutes this is one show that doesn't overstay it's welcome, all the while giving the words "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night" a whole new meaning.
Copyright 2007 by Judd Hollander
Return to Volume Thirteen, Number Eleven Index
Return to Volume Thirteen Index
Return to Home Page