Anti Claus

There's a notion that, for theater companies, holiday stage productions are cash cows. They can throw together any old show related to the season--A Christmas Carol, The Nutcracker, Scrooge, A Christmas Story, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever--with a few costumes (usually passed along year to year) and they've got a low-budget, high-drawing show that sells itself. Theater companies are happy because they've got enough to finance the remainder of their seasons. And theatergoers are just as pleased because, if only for 90 minutes or so, they've managed to capture that elusive "holiday spirit" and stop worrying if the bows on the packages under the tree are perky enough (or maybe too perky?).

For the past few years, when stage companies have desired an alternative to the good tidings and cheer of traditional holiday fare, they've turned to The Santaland Diaries, Joe Mantello's stage adaptation of humorist David Sedaris' account of being a 30-something, out-of-work writer who takes a gig as an elf in Macy's winter wonderland. But what was once an alternative has become just as expected this time of year as an increase in the number of suicides and car accidents.

But The Santaland Diaries is no worse for the wear. Presented as either a one-man show starring Crumpet the disenchanted elf or with Crumpet joined by two fellow pointy-toed-shoe-wearers, the play keeps all the anecdotes and zingers of Sedaris' original story and resulting national public radio piece. Expectedly, he gets teased by adults in line with their kids, but his responses--both those he uses and ones he just wishes he had said--make a predictable setup worthwhile. The Grinch has nothing on this elf.

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Shannon Sutlief