BWW Review: The Gamm's THE SANTALAND DIARIES Is a Snarky Christmas Delight
THE SANTALAND DIARIES, based on the essay of the same name by David Sedaris, tells the story of his working as an elf at Macy's Santaland in the early 1990's. Those who are familiar with Sedaris's writing can imagine the witty and wry observations he took away from such an experience, but like all his work, there is a bit of heart as well. This play has been performed at the Gamm three times in the last ten years, but despite the fact that the actor (Steve Kidd) in this one man show never changes, the sets and script are slightly different each time. This time, the set is far more expansive than the 2009 production, but still manages to feel intimate, in part due to Kidd's excellent use of the space physically, and delightful sets and Christmas decorations that make the audience feel like they are in Santaland. The script is showing its age a bit (the essay was originally read on NPR in 1992), but it's still thoroughly entertaining, and Steve Kidd manages to keep his performance high energy and fresh.
The beginning of the story finds David Sedaris, an unemployed stoner in his mid-late 30s smoking a bong and wearing a poncho. He's tried to get a couple seasonal jobs already at this point, namely UPS, but hasn't found anything until the window of opportunity opens in Macy's Santaland, where he is hired as an elf, and is henceforth referred to by his elf name--Crumpet. What follows is a series of anecdotes about the people who visit Santaland, his fellow elves, a series of Santas who each have their own quirks, and the mortification that comes with being a grown man in an elf costume.
Steve Kidd is fantastic in his role. He's an affable everyman who you just root for, and the fact that he performs most of the show dressed in his elf costume keeps things funny, even when he's not currently offering snarky observations. There's always a bit of a danger in a one man show that the energy will drop, but it never does in this production, and light and sound effects are used to such excellent effect that it almost feels like there are more people on stage than just one.
Anyone familiar with the source material will certainly have no trouble understanding where and when the story takes place, but for those who haven't read or heard the essay, there are a few things that stand out--mostly just to do with the time period. It's never stated in the play when the events are taking place, which makes a few references to the now-defunct Radio Shack, or to parents lugging giant video cameras around to record their kids sitting on Santa's lap seem odd and distracting. A brief mention of the time period at the top of the play could have helped to make these mentions less jarring to the audience.
There are a lot of plays to go see right now about Christmas, but this is possibly the most fun. Steve Kidd's performance is not to be missed, and everything about this production is just perfect and thoroughly entertaining.
The SantaLand Diaries runs from December 13-23 only at The Gamm Theatre, 172 Exchange St., Pawtucket, RI. Tickets are $33 for the December 13 press preview, and $44 for the regular run. Students tickets are $20. All seats are general admission. Call 401-723-4266 or buy tickets online at gammtheatre.org.
Contains mature language and themes, and may not be appropriate for young children.