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Theatre Review (LA): Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris at the Stella Adler Theatre

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The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris was a big hit last year for the Blank Theatre Company so Artistic Director Daniel Henning has brought the production back for another go-round. It is a tale of a would-be writer (Sedaris) who applies for and gets a job in Macy’s “Santaland.” Instead of magic he encounters drunken Santas, screaming kids, aggressive and stressed sales clerks vying for position, and the crass commercialization of Christmas.

After arriving in town full of good spirits and high hopes, the writer begins his quest for a job. When he lands one playing an Elf at Macy’s he thinks he has the best job in town. We witness his slow descent into boredom, then anger, then nastiness (even to the kids and their moms), and finally despair as he counts the hours until the job is over.

Nicholas Brendon (best known as Xander from Buffy The Vampire Slayer) returns as “Crumpet the Elf.” He displays just the right amount of dismay, peevishness, stupidity, cynicism, and good spirit that the piece requires. One might yearn for Sedaris himself who is famous for this. He is one of America’s senior comedic writers and sells out every time he appears live. His books are also best-sellers. This story is particularly funny because it actually happened to him and like all comedy writers do, he turned the experience into a funny story. Santaland Diaries is a perennial favorite around America.

The Christmassy set is by Kurt Boetcher. Lighting design is by Tim Swiss, the fun costume design is by Michael Mullen, and the sound design is by Warren Davis. Michael Matthews repeats as director. Mathews is well known around town for having directed The Jazz Age, The Women of Brewster Place, Take Me Out, and the powerful Haram Iran.

I was puzzled by some of the direction, as when Brendon would run off stage for no reason, at least none evident to the audience. I also felt the director could have come up with more things for “Crumpet” to do. In looking at videos of other productions I saw him riding toy trains, playing with toys, etc.

But as an alternative to the traditional Christmas fare, Santaland Diaries offers a very funny option. Santaland Diaries will play at the Stella Adler Theatre until Dec. 19th.

Photo (above) by Rick Baumgartner.

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