BWW Review: THE SANTALAND DIARIES at Goodman Theatre
To sum up The Goodman Theatre's pairing of holiday productions this season: it was the best of humanity; it was the worst of humanity. While Tiny Tim's blessings and Scrooge's transformation warm hearts nightly in the Goodman's Albert Theatre, across the lobby in the Owen Theatre is a much different scene: a sardonic sendup of Christmas commercialism as told by Crumpet, an elf in Macy's Santaland. Based on the essay by humorist David Sedaris, which propelled him to fame when he performed it on NPR in 1992, Joe Mantello's one-man stage adaptation of THE SANTALAND DIARIES stars Matt Crowle and is directed by Steve Scott.
Before he dons the striped tights and pointed shoes, we meet Crowle's character, an out-of-work actor in New York City who stumbles across an ad for seasonal employment as a Macy's elf. Though he initially mocks the idea of adults prancing around dressed as Santa's helpers, his need for work overrides his pride and he applies for the job. After a bizarre series of interviews, drug testing, and costume fittings, he finds himself in elf training alongside a motley cohort of broke students, starving artists, and laid-off businesspeople. Upon completion, the doors of Santaland open to the public, and newly-christened "Crumpet" is thrust into a world of crying children, helicopter parents, confused tourists, and rude holiday shoppers.
In true David Sedaris form, nothing is sacred in Crumpet's sarcastic commentary on the insanity that leads up to December 25. The audience is let in on the unglamorous proceedings behind the magical façade that the retail industry puts up during the holidays, from the high quantity of children's vomit to the foul-minded old men in Santa costumes. And we, the general public, are not spared as Crumpet elaborates the ways in which the holidays bring out the worst in people: mothers who request a "white Santa," fathers who teach their young sons to objectify women, and every other imaginable family dysfunction on public display.
Crowle delivers Crumpet's sketch-like monologues with a quirky, deadpan persona; spot-on comedic timing; and a knack for impersonating a multitude of character types. Despite moments when the opening night crowd seemed unsure of how to take Sedaris' off-color humor, Crowle landed most punch lines with apparent ease, and his natural rapport with the audience charmed us into going along for the ride the rest of the time.
The Goodman's disclaimer warns that this play is "for mature elves only," and it's true that there's plenty of crude humor and little regard for political correctness. This production is the perfect choice for anyone looking to feed their inner Grinch, needing a break from the holiday madness, or just wanting a good laugh. And, as with any good satire, you may find some surprisingly thought-provoking gems amidst the fun.
Photo credit: Erik Scanlon
Review by: Emily McClanathan