BWW Reviews: Portland Stage's SANTALAND DIARIES Is Wicked Good Fun
Portland Stage Studio Theatre's Christmas reprise of David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries is eighty-five minutes of rollicking, wicked good fun (as Mainers like to say!). This is due not only to Sedaris' mordant comic style, but also to the chameleon brilliance of Dustin Tucker as Elf Crumpet.
Sedaris' dramatic monologue about a young man reluctantly toiling away as an elf in Macy's famed Santaland is actually a series of narrative adventures strung together with sharp irony and cynical wit; the protagonist Crumpet chronicles the foibles of the parents, children, and co-workers he meets in this absurd wonderland built on fantasy and Barnum-like retailing. Sedaris has an unfailing instinct for character and a sure ear for comic idiom; he is acerbic, often politically incorrect, and always perfectly hilarious. He revels in bursting the bubble of Christmas warmth and cheer, at the same time that he makes it impossible not to embrace the puckish elf's antics.
Dustin Tucker, who returns to the comedy for his six season as Crumpet, lights up the small black box theatre with incandescent energy. To reprise a role with such freshness and to make a part which bears Sedaris' own unforgettable original stamp his own is a virtuoso triumph in and of itself. But more than that, Tucker reveals himself, as he did in his recently acclaimed performance in Vigil, to be an actor of amazing technique and mercurial flair. He possesses an astounding vocal and physical facility, a scintillating sense of comic timing, and a wickedly ingratiating engagement with his audience. In a house this small, he seems to play to each and every spectator by individual turns with sly eye contact and irresistible double takes. He keeps the audience in thrall, building laugh on laugh until house and stage become inseparably immersed in his tale. Along the way he creates so many memorable characters - Crumpet's imitation of a Bille Holliday Santa, his encounter with a group of "retarded" children -(yes, that's how the politically incorrect elf describes them!), the frantic mother berating her child to sit on Santa's lap, or the self-important and dimly serious elfin co-worker - to name but a few. Most of all, what dazzles in Tucker's performance is his seemingly inexhaustible inventiveness and immediacy. The actor is so alive in the moment that it is impossible not to be swept along in laughter and yes - perish the thought - good will!
Anita Stewart's simple set conjures up "backstage" at Macy's, while Susan Thomas' elf costumes take on a comedic life of their own. Michaela Denoncourt uses her lighting design to transition among the various Santaland locations, while Matthew Cost rounds out the ambiance with his pitch perfect sound design.
Once again Portland Stage has found a way to bring holiday merriment to its audience - in this case with a kind of alternative tale, deliciously original, more naughty than nice, but all that much more delightful!
Santaland Diaires runs until December 16, 2013 at the Portland Stage Studio Theatre, 25 Forest Ave., Portland, ME Tickets at 207-774-0465 or www.portlandstage.org
Photos Courtesy of Portland Stage Company