“You’re gonna get on that man’s lap, and you’re gonna smile!”
It had to be Santaland.
As Theatreworks says goodbye to their old venue—and, in many ways, goodbye to Murray Ross all over again—they had no choice but to restage the pitch-black Christmas comedy.
“The Santaland Diaries” is a child of the early ’90s, with its cigarettes-and-black-coffee, “look at all the phonies” detachment. David Sedaris wrote about his experiences working as a Macy’s Christmas elf named Crumpet. The show’s sadistic humor and pull-back-the-curtain cynicism made it a counter-programming favorite for theatres sick of staging “A Christmas Carol.”
Twenty-five years later, our reality-show culture has pulled back the curtain on everything. Sedaris’s disdain now hints of snobbery, and a scene where he ogles his fellow elves in the dressing room reads as so icky the lead broke character to apologize for it.
In response, Theatreworks made a bold choice: They gave Crumpet a soul.
Sammie Joe Kinnett brings a wild energy and warmth to the show, more Chris Farley than Elaine Stritch. Sure, Crumpet still rolls his eyes at corporately mandated enthusiasm, but he also dances to Christmas music like the rest of us. He wants to care—he’s just waiting for something that’s worth caring about.
This year’s show adds four helper elves as a mostly silent chorus. They pose and strut as model employees, while also indulging Crumpet’s weirder fantasies.
Even at their (scrumptiously acted) phoniest, the elves nudge the show toward empathy. After all, these aren’t just stories anymore; they’re real people, who finish their shifts exhausted and broken, then have to come back tomorrow.
It’s a touching blend of deviance and heart, the perfect cocktail as we pour one out for Theatreworks’ past and look forward to its future.
Caitlin Ayer’s colorful set design evokes the idealized way we saw malls as children. In the wrong hands, Santaland could become a garish nightmare, but she demonstrates the restraint of an expert window dresser.
Despite its newfound heart, “The Santaland Diaries” still jokes about sex, drugs, foreigners, corporate slavery and Satanism, all in front of an audience drinking spiked hot chocolate. Proceed appropriately.
Theatreworks at Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater (for the last time)
3955 Regent Cir
Box Office: (719) 255-3232
Playing November 30 – December 23, 2017
Admission: $42 general; $35 Wednesday/Thursday
Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes