Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Santaland Diaries

photo: Jennifer Maufrais Kelly

David Sedaris' sardonic 1992 essay The Santaland Diaries, which recounts his stint working as a Macy's elf, is to my mind a modern holiday-time classic: its dry, keenly observational humor is antithetical to the sugarplum schmaltz of the usual holiday-themed offerings. Among its many pleasures is its cold-eyed peek behind the curtain of Christmas, so to speak, as we're walked through the absurdity of a workplace that puts its employees in elf costumes and forces them to be relentlessly cheerful. The monologue stage version, which pops up all over the country this time of year, is as tight and as wryly funny as the essay but in order for it to be wholly satisfying (as opposed to merely enjoyable) it demands a comic actor who connects to Sedaris' style. Happily the Gallery Players production has, in B. Brian Argotsinger, a performer who gets the layers in the material. He knows that many of Sedaris' absurd, funny details are little microcosmic stinkbombs laced with social and cultural critique (one of my favorites tells of the parents who request a "traditional" Santa, meaning white, which prompts the deadpan Macy's-dictated scold: "There is only one Santa") and he knows, with a bit of Paul Lynde in his delivery, how to throw them at us with a light touch. Recommended, but note: the show's final performances are this weekend:

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