For WaterTower Theatre it’s a case of elf preservation. Yesterday the Addison theater signed Dallas actor Nye Cooper to return to a role he loves: Crumpet the Elf in the annual Christmas season production of David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries.
Cooper, 33, did the one-man show at WaterTower for five years, selling out weeks of two-a-night performances. Then last year he was notified by email that WaterTower was hiring another actor, Ted Wold, for the part. Cooper says he was hurt, but he used the break from Crumpet to play the lead in a new play, Angela Wilson’s Dim All the Lights, at the Bath House.
A call from WaterTower’s artistic director Terry Martin the other day got Cooper thinking about coming back to Santaland. The two sat down to talk about it Yesterday. “They made me an offer. I said, 'Hmmm.' They made me another offer, and I took it,” says Cooper.
And with that, Santaland gets its snark back.
The play is short -- just over an hour -- and anything but sweet. It’s a tart chestnut about a gay aspiring actor spending a horrible few weeks working as a Santa’s helper at Macy’s 34th Street store in Manhattan. He gets a crush on another elf, talks mean to pushy mommies, sneaks cigs behind toy land and sings carols in the husky voice of Billie Holliday. All of it is based on Sedaris’ own experiences, which he recounted in monologues broadcast on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition in 1992.
Cooper is a perfect fit for Santaland. With his Grinchy eyebrows, he looks a little like Sedaris himself, and when he’s in the Crumpet suit -- green tights, striped tunic, jingle hat -- every gesture seems to telegraph profound disgust that he’s been reduced to this.
Audiences love The Santaland Diaries. Corporate parties book the show. Families with kids old enough to hear the R-rated material make it a yearly outing. Mostly it appeals to those fed up to here with Christmas crap and who need to fellowship with other Nutcracker-haters.
So last year’s replacement of Cooper with Wold didn’t work out too well. Wold is a wonderful actor and a real nice guy, but he was wrong for Crumpet. He knew it. The audiences knew it. And they let they box office know it.
Poor Wold ended up with a bleeding ulcer from the experience. And WaterTower closed the show early.
Terry Martin will once again direct Cooper as Crumpet for this year’s Santaland. He’ll do 15 performances spread across several weeks, all in the tiny Studio Theatre at WaterTower.
“The character comes easily to me, and I do love the show,” says Cooper. “I’m so excited to do it again, I’m going right now to wash out my tights.”
This summer theatergoers can see Nye Cooper co-starring in Andrew Bergman’s Social Security at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, opening August 10.
“After that,” says the actor, “I won’t do another thing till Christmas.” --Elaine Liner