With A CHRISTMAS CAROL on Goodman Theatre’s mainstage, it makes perfect sense that THE SANTALAND DIARIES, the one-man – or, as its author David Sedaris might say, one-elf show – is just down the hall in Goodman’s studio space.
At least Scrooge gets to go from adventure to adventure in his nightshirt. And Charles Dickens wrote the story from his imagination. Sedaris, on the other hand, had to wear a costume that no self-respecting 8-year-old would tolerate. And his story draws on real-life memories of working at Macy’s Santaland circa 1990. As Scrooge journeys from humbug to redemption, Crumpet the Elf barely survives from one cigarette break to the next.
Alternative holiday staple at GOODMAN THEATRE
Adapted for the stage from Sedaris’ account of his season of shame by Joe Mantello, The Santaland Diaries has become an alternative holiday staple. Actor Steven Strafford takes up the tasseled mantle of Crumpet and leads us into Macy’s Christmas world. Kevin Depinet’s set of oversized Santaland décor is long on coloring book simplicity and short on anything resembling the human experience. As for costume designer Rachel Lampert’s attire for Strafford, well…just look at the photos. Jesus is definitely not the reason for Crumpet’s season.
Why did a 33-year-old man consent to this? To pay his rent. Unemployed in New York City, Sedaris answered a want ad for Macy elves, assuming the gig would be his for the asking. Onstage decades later, Strafford channels with fresh immediacy the moment that Sedaris grasped “the very real possibility that I will not be hired, that I couldn't even find work as an elf. That's when you know you're a failure.”
THE SANTALAND DIARIES adds a dash of sour
Sedaris did get the job. Stafford, under the direction of Steve Scott, delivers 65 minutes of its hilarity. During elf training – yes, there was formal elf training – “We were taken to the Oh My God Corner…People arriving see the long line and say ‘Oh my God!’ and it’s an elf’s job to calm them down and explain that it’ll take no longer than an hour to see Santa.” Other trials included dealing with vomit, tantrums, toddlers peeing into fake snow, parents aggressively art-directing their children on Santa’s lap and customers threatening to have Crumpet fired for lapses in spirit.
Strafford’s performance seemed a little hyped on opening night, and this viewer yearned for more down time to absorb the absurdity. But the material, just like the set and costumes, certainly lends itself to over-the-top treatment.
Audience members who have a chance to see both Scrooge and Crumpet at Goodman this month can decide for themselves which hero suffers more. It may well be a toss-up. Meanwhile, in this reviewer’s opinion, THE SANTALAND DIARIES is a worthy counterbalance to any and all other Yuletide shows, adding a delicious dash of sour to the seasonal sugar.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves
David Sedaris (Author), Joe Mantello (Adapter), Steve Scott (Director), Lauren Katz (Assistant Director), Kevin Depinet (Set Design), Rachel Lambert (Costume Design), Mike Durst (Lighting Design), Christopher Kriz (Sound Design), Adam Belcuore (Casting), Kaitlin Kitzmiller (Production Stage Manager)
Now December 29, 2019
Goodman’s Owen Theatre
170 N. Dearborn
About the Author
Susan Lieberman is a Jeff-winning playwright, journalist, teacher and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre. Her radio drama In the Shadows aired on BBC Radio 4 last season.