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Santaland Diaries delivers a new perspective on yuletide traditions

Joe Leary shines in this candid piece about being an elf in Macy's NYC Santaland.
Joe Leary shines in this candid piece about being an elf in Macy's NYC Santaland.
Photo courtesy of the Hennepin Theatre Trust

When you're a wee little tike, going to see the mall Santa can be a number of things, mysterious, curious, or even horrifying. But as you get closer to those delightful pre-teen years, it can become very enlightening. Innocence was the magical key to appreciating the grandeur and spectacle of Santaland. Non-toxic polymer is transformed into sparkling indoor snow, empty sweater boxes from last year are disguised as elaborately decorated mystery gifts from Santa, and the most fun of all: Bob the retired bus driver and Joe the laid off janitor can put on some striped stockings and a polyester beard to instantly become…Santa and his little elfin helpers! It’s all fun and games, until one kid grows up to become an elf himself.

Joe Mantello’s (director of Wicked, 9 to 5) stage adaptation of David Sedaris’s original essay, The Santaland Diaries covers the experience of Sedaris in his stint as an elf at Macy’s New York City Santaland. Sedaris’s original reading of the essay on National Public Radio in 1992 thrust him into the spotlight as a prominent comedian. He is now an multi award-winning author and playwright, other notable works include Me Talk Pretty One Day, Naked, and When You Are Engulfed in Flames. You may also recognize the name Sedaris for the work of his sister, Amy Sedaris, who besides having several comedic successes of her own including the Comedy Central series, Strangers with Candy, has also co-written award-winning plays with her brother.

The Santaland Diaries is entirely characteristic of Sedaris’s skill as a sardonic satirist, and Frank Theater’s production at Hennepin Stages with lone performer Joe Leary, comes off just slightly less subdued than Sedaris himself, but all the more funny with the help of visual aids.

The show chronicles the experience of a Santaland elf named Crumpet from the selection process to the Christmas eve finale, telling of the grueling roles of “photo elf,” “magic window elf,” “island elf,” and many more. Sedaris recounts his experience in this thankless role all for the sake of bringing merriment to the ungrateful, with everything from Christmas carol abuse to elfin Casanovas.

Leary’s Crumpet is charming, sarcastic, and reluctantly likeable in this biographical role. This one man show presents Leary and Director Wendy Knox with a rare challenge to engage an audience with very little stage action for over an hour. The production succeeds in directing the hilarious images mostly inside the imaginations of each audience member. Do I feel gypped by this tactic? Not at all, in fact, I could have stayed for more.

Frank Theater is committed to producing intellectually stimulating productions that not only entertain, but arouse important social and political conversation. The Santaland Diaries, though lighter in tone, is no different. If you’re looking for an affordable intellectual comedy with a yuletide flare, this is your show. 


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