REVIEW: Echo Theatre is Presenting a Laugh-Out-Loud Production of THE SANTALAND DIARIES

If the holiday blues have got you down, or you're starting to get tired of being inundated with Christmas themed advertising, then take a break from your shopping list and check out Echo Theatre's production of The Santaland Diaries. The pitch black humor of writer David Sedaris is on display in this hilarious look at the yuletide season from the point of view of a disgruntled former Macy's department store elf. Playwright Joe Mantello has adapted an essay by Sedaris into a one-man show that features a terrific performance by artistic director Eric Little.

The Santaland Diaries is more than just an hour long rant about the evils of Christmas. In fact, there are times that it's downright touching. It starts with the hiring process to become an elf, enlightening viewers on the type of person who would apply for this position, as well as the personal attributes that are looked at by their employers. But, the fun really begins when the job starts and "Crumpet the Elf" gives us details on the various types of elves that are put to work in this large scale operation. He also talks about the different personalities of the various Santas he gets to work with, and after noting the peculiarities of several of them, gives us a description of one particular St. Nick that is genuinely touching.

For all the mirth and merriment generated by Crumpet's recollections, it's his revelations about the way parents behave at this time of the year that really hits home. Accounts of children being borderline abused as they're herded in to visit Santa seem to be the norm rather than the exception, and it's these sections that give the play its weight.

Eric Little underplays this piece brilliantly, and his wry, laconic delivery is very reminiscent of Sedaris himself. But, he also injects an impish energy into the proceedings that keeps the pace flowing along at a nice clip. And, Little interacts with the audience throughout, even taking Polaroid snapshots of us at one point. It would be easy to take this material and play it broad and shrill, but Little's approach with his portrayal allows the more heartwarming moments to really shine through.

Ben Nordstrom directs with flair, putting Little in the audience at the beginning of the play before moving him up to the stage. Nordstrom also uses the breaks between comic bits to assault the audience with funny music cues that set the tone for each segment. He also makes a cameo as the voice of the overhead announcer. Little's set design is an appealing mix of red and white augmented with a huge leering Santa gracing the back. Costumer Carrie Lawrence has created a deliciously funny outfit for Little to wear, complete with candy cane colored tights. Maureen Hanratty's lighting scheme sets the proper mood, and partially utilizes the same color scheme as the set.

Echo Theatre's laugh-out-loud production of The Santaland Diaries continues through December 20, 2009 in the ArtSpace at Crestwood Plaza.

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From This Author Chris Gibson

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