"The Santaland Diaries"
Long Wharf Stage II, New Haven
Do the writings of David Sedaris translate from page to stage? Alas, no--if one is to judge by “Santaland Diaries,” the current show at Long Wharf’s Stage II.
Yet Sedaris’s essays, which often appear in the “New Yorker,” “Esquire,” and elsewhere, are refreshingly irreverent and open. So, too, are his books—“Naked,” “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim,” and others. Sedaris lays bare his soul, as he copes with the outrageous paradoxes of life.
“Santaland Diaries,” an essay read on NPR’s Morning Edition in 1992, brought Sedaris his initial recognition, and no doubt charmed his audiences. But it is apparently too slight, too fragile, a piece to withstand the glare of the spotlight. And this, despite the awesome talent of Joe Mantello, who has adapted the piece for stage. The problem here is that the actor is merely reciting an essay which never comes to life.
The essay-turned-show deals with Sedaris’s own experiences when, as an out-of-work newcomer to New York, he was hired by Macy’s. Through a long, arduous screening process, he was chosen to be one of Santa’s elves. Since each elf must choose an elf-name, he dubs himself “Crumpet.”
In the pre-Xmas weeks, Macy’s toy department is transformed into Santaland, with various Santas presiding, assisted by numerous elves. Behind it all lies the barely-hidden materialism, the Macy’s hard sell. It is, in fact, a hard, ungarnished look at this country’s major shopping season.
“Santaland” should have had the makings of a provocative theater piece. In this holiday season of syrupy sentiments behind the commercial drive, a satiric look at Santa and his elves could indeed be refreshing. But this 70-minute essay on Long Wharf’s Stage II never fulfills that promise. Actor Thomas Sadoski, an earnest, rumpled-looking young man, creates a ripple of amusement in the audience when he stuffs himself into striped tights, gauzy shirt, suspenders, and a peaked hat. But that’s as funny as it gets. Even as he describes whining children, demanding parents, bewildered foreign tourists, cynical Santas, and a steadily-ascending chaos, his monologue never takes off.
Director Kim Rubinstein tries earnestly to add interest to the piece. The costume, for example. And the Santaland stage set, which Sadoski reveals midway through the piece, by opening a giant wall (wrapped like a present). But all to no avail. “Santaland Diaries” should have stayed on the written page.
Dec. 10, 2006