David Sedaris really is a national treasure and the Santaland Diaries essay provided a lively springboard to launch his career as an essayist and commentator for National Public Radio. Reading from the essay has become something of an NPR holiday tradition and his quiet screed that detonates the myths that support the saccharine-tinged sentiments about the holiday season without any actual invectiveness has become an American classic.
… laughed loud and well at Mensah’s delivery and timing
Playwright Joe Mantello’s adaptation of the essay, inspired by true events, is a hilarious recounting of Sedaris’ short tenure as Crumpet the Elf in Macy’s Santaland holiday display. I can commiserate as only another man who has donned tights and a cheesy elf costume can. (Pressed into service by my ex-wife to be a helper with Breakfast with Santa at my child’s school, and yes, I had the curly shoes with jingle bells and everything.) In Sederis’ case, his middle-aged aspiring writer’s hopes seem almost thoroughly trashed with this gig, and he keeps his sense of self and sanity only by applying a writer’s eye, ear, sensitivity, and sardonic sense of humor to the events that he witnesses. Dressing up like a Christmas elf professionally is hardly anyone’s finest hour, and Sedaris’ play captures the mixture of absurdity and humiliation against the backdrop of the holiday fervor admirably.
The Maryland Ensemble Theatre’s version of The Santaland Diaries is directed by Suzanne Beal, who has a string of regional stage credits. She allows the tone to be astringent but tempered by the play’s substantial dose of absurdist humor in equal measure. As one-man, one-act shows go it is a challenge for any actor to keep an audience’s attention for 70 minutes alone, without the help of other actors and with minimal props, but Rona Mensah does an very good job.
Her Crumpet the Elf, dressed in the classic elf costume of North Pole kitsch: striped tights with a green velvet tunic trimmed with fur accents and a pointy stocking cap with spangles is at once weary and comic. Beginning with her laborious application at Macy’s, she progresses to stories of adults who behave badly in front of Santa, many wanting to literally relive their childhoods by standing in line for an hour just to talk to the big man himself. Some of the parents make impossible demands upon their children, cajoling frightened children to pose with Santa or hitting them and then expecting them to smile sweetly for the camera. It’s all about the parents and the emphasis is upon obtaining photographic evidence of a picture-perfect childhood holiday for posterity, not about the child’s wants and needs.
I had heard and seen it all before, on the radio and in other theatres, but still laughed loud and well at Mensah’s delivery and timing, which was excellent. I was thoroughly entertained; this is the first time that I have seen the play adapted for a woman to play the part of Crumpet and the production is well worth the price of admission. The Maryland Ensemble Theatre is an intimate playhouse with the feel of a New York underground theatre and a compact stage that lends itself well to a one-man show.
Running Time: 70 minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: this production is for mature audiences only.
The Santaland Diaries plays December 6th – 29th at The Maryland Ensemble Theatre at 31 W. Patrick St. Frederick, MD 21701. Tickets are available at the box office or purchase online.