Recently, we reviewed An Act of God (favorably) and forewarned people that those who consider themselves very religious may take offense. We’ve got to give the same warning for The SantaLand Diaries, playing at The Jones theater until December 24. Only instead of taking aim at religion, SantaLand goes after Santa Claus and all of that “magic” that is manufactured by shopping malls or, specifically, Macy’s in New York. Some may be willing to help take aim and others may feel like their childhood dreams are squashed.
The show is the stage adaptation of one of the stories in David Sedaris’ delicious book, Holidays on Ice (which should be the adult portion of your holiday reading traditions right along with ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas for the kids.) At times, it has the rhythm of someone reading from the book while walking around and occasionally gesturing. But other times, it’s free-form and like an acted-out play. We’ve seen The SantaLand Diaries before and I was surprised how different the performances and productions were. There is the overall story of David, a man in his 30’s, who is new to New York, hell-bent on somehow ending up on One Life to Live but who, three weeks in, has no prospects and ends up applying for a job as an elf at Macy’s in “SantaLand.” This is where people take their kids and line up for hours to have a moment on Santa’s knee.
Taking the job out of necessity and certainly not out of love of the holidays, David, or “Crumpet,” his given elf name for the job, proceeds to spend the rest of the one-man, 90 minute show, dissecting and giving a blow-by-blow of what goes on behind the scenes in SantaLand. It ain’t pretty. It’s jaded, and alcohol-and-pot-ridden, kind of gross, lewd and annoying – so says Crumpet, telling and showing by example. But there are also moments of charm, culminating in a moment that had the audience that had been laughing, tearing up.
What I don’t remember from last time was the between-segment bits. Michael Bouchard, who is a cross between Jim Carey as The Grinch and Robin Williams as every skit he ever did, did little dances, gestures and whatnot before immediately slipping into the next chapter in the story. Altogether, the production was frenetic and manic. At times it got gruesome and just really disturbing. In those moments, the show lost me. The laughter got uncomfortable in those moments too – or maybe I was just projecting.
Speaking of laughter, I always feel for the performers in these smaller, more intimate shows because it always takes a while for the audience to get onboard. I’m sure the actors feel a little concerned until the crowd starts to get into the vibe and realizes it’s okay to laugh out loud even though you’re in a small room. That’s when it must be very rewarding for them to play to a smaller group, where you have the opportunity to look into their eyes and interact with them directly.
The setting of The Jones theater offered advantages and disadvantages over the previous production in the Garner Galleria which has the stage in front with all audience members facing the stage. At The Jones, three sections surround the stage with a walkway right in front. Without amplification, that meant that when Bouchard was over talking to the group on the left side, the folks on the right side couldn’t hear that well. And when the numerous people had to go to the bathroom, they had no choice but to cross in front of the actor which was distracting to him and everyone else.
Don’t go to The SantaLand Diaries expecting a sweet holiday tale. It’s for those who don’t like the commercialism of Christmas; for those who have waited in line for an eternity to take their kids to see Santa; and for those who want to look at Christmas a little differently. Visit www.denvercenter.org for more information and for tickets.