Matt Crabtree returns as David, Crumpet, and a host of other colorful characters in The SantaLand Diaries, neither understudy nor across-the-country Elf this time round but the centerstage star of his very own, all-around splendid production of David Sedaris’s holiday one-man show.
This true(ish) story of the best-selling writer’s humiliating (but hilarious-in-retrospect) stint as a Christmas elf at New York City Macy’s “SantaLand” has leading man Crabteee and director Deidra Edwards taking twenty-seven pages of dialog (adapted by Joe Mantello from Sedaris’s original essay) without a single stage direction and turning them into a full-fledged play, filled with a myriad of characters, each more wild and wacky than the next.
Sedaris stand-in Crabtree sets the scene by explaining, “I am a thirty-two-year-old man applying for a job as an elf,” though “it could be worse.” He could, after all, be applying to be one of those people “dressed as objects and handing out leaflets” on the streets.
Over the course of the play’s seventy or so minutes, we see this would-be writer’s dream of going straight from Penn Station to the office of One Life To Live turn into a life-unaffirming Macy’s gig as an elf rather ignobly named Crumpet.
Along the way, Crabtree creates one distinctive character after another, from a waitress who punctuates every phrase and sentence with a question mark to a well-seasoned lady boss who tells the female elves that she has “scraped enough blood out from the crotches of elf knickers to last me the rest of my life.”
There’s also the “multimedia” dad, “bent over with equipment, relentless in his quest for documentation” of his children’s visit with Santa, the mother-from-hell who slaps her sobbing daughter, yelling, “Goddamn it, Rachel, get on that man’s lap and smile or I’ll give you something to cry about,” and the customer who threatens to get Crumptet fired (and sets the elf to imagining his own Dirty Harry-style revenge).
And that’s just a handful of the unforgettable creations brought to life by Crabtree and Edwards, the ingenious duo insuring that SantaLand 2014 comes across fresh and new and no retreaded Elf Of Christmases Past.
Tweaking (and in some cases downright reinventing) characters created in previous SantaLand stints, director and star keep Sedaris’s Diaries reality-based as young David navigates big city life after a mere several weeks in The Big Apple, Crabtree’s own McLeansville, North Carolina upbringing (and vowels) paralleling Sedaris’s in Raleigh just seventy miles away.
Adding to this year’s excitement is David Mauer’s brand-new, thoroughly inspired scenic design, one that holds as many surprises as presents unwrapped on a Christmas morn, costume consultant Rod Keller’s colorful new Crumpet garb (and a pair of stripteases performed to “Santa Baby” thrown in for titillation), and first-time-ever preshow announcements (and occasional narration) by none other than David’s idol herself, Miss Erika Slezak, “Victoria Buchanan” of One Life To Live fame. Add to this Amanda Mauer’s terrific lighting and her imaginative, holiday-themed sound design and you’ve got a SantaLand Diaries that more than merits the SRO houses that have greeted its return.
Daniel Coronel is stage manager. The SantaLand Diaries is produced by D&ME Productions, LLC, and Brenda Davidson.
It may usually take a village to raise a child (and a cast of a dozen or more to really fill a stage), but in the case of The SantaLand Diaries, it takes just one fabulous actor to make holiday magic, that is if that actor is Matt Crabtree as David, Crumpet, and Friends.
The Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner Street, Los Angeles.
December 13, 2104
Photos: D&ME Productions