Behind the scenes with Santa’s Elf
At New Village Arts Theatre, “The Santaland Diaries” is an acid-laced holiday treat
Ever seen a 6’2” elf? Well, you haven’t met Crumpet (Daren Scott), who spent one less-than-merry Christmas working at Macy’s Herald Square in New York .
“The Santaland Diaries,” which relates his comical behind-the-scenes adventures, is based on the outrageous, uproarious radio piece that first brought humorist David Sedaris to national attention on NPR in 1992.
The one-man show, a series of off-the-wall vignettes framed as diary entries, was a sellout last year at New Village Arts , and it’s back for a second season, with Scott returning in all his green velvet glory.
The 70-minute play has been produced several times in San Diego , including at the Old Globe, but Scott is by far the tastiest Crumpet. The role requires a delicate balance between funny, snarky, cynical and nasty, and Scott walks the line with aplomb, totally capturing Sedaris’ quirky, kinky perspective on pushy parents, puking kids, surly Santas , shopping frenzies and life in general.
The 1996 adaptation, by Joe Mantello , reframes the central character as a 40 year-old out-of-work actor, instead of the 36 year-old out-of-work writer Sedaris was when he had the experience. Except for that, the play hews close to the tone of the original, viciously exposing the various indignities an elf is subject to in an environment of relentless “forced delight.” There’s a bit of updating (a reference to the recession, and the “bitter elves” it spawned), but it’s otherwise timeless (and, one assumes, things haven’t changed so much at Macy’s).
The deadpan delivery belies the shame, resentment, anger and humiliation roiling beneath the surface. Crumpet makes no attempt to ‘make nice,’ insisting that he is “not a good person… never even been mistaken for a good person.”
So he takes his revenge in little ways. Singing a blistering (and hilarious) version of “Away in a Manger” in the style of Billie Holiday, for instance. Or imitating (in delectable accents and dialects) everyone from the less intelligent elves to the beleaguered parents and disabled visitors. Just for wicked fun, he mis -directs some guests, comes onto a fellow elf, points out celebs when he shouldn’t, even announces that Cher is waiting in Santa’s house, which nearly causes a riot (and gets him banished to one of the less desirable areas of the vast Santaland , like the “Vomit Corner”).
Scott and director Kristianne Kurner have smoothed out the production, perhaps rendering the piece a little less sardonic and edgy than before. But it’s still a funny hour of poisonous holiday cheer. Crumpet’s costume (Kate Stallons) is perfectly awful (striped tights, turned-up toes and all), and the fanciful, snowy set (Tim Wallace) features a working model train set. The lighting (Ashley Jenks) includes a few pertinent projections, and the sound design (Adam Brick) provides just the right noisy, falsely merry, musical backdrop.
All told, it’s the perfect antidote to all the treacly sugarplum sweetness of the season, and you’re guaranteed to guffaw.
“The Santaland Diaries” runs through December 24.
Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm; Saturday at 3pm and Sunday at 2pm. Special Christmas week performances: December 21st – 23rd at 8pm and December 24th at 4pm
Tickets ($20) are available at 760-433-3245 or newvillagearts.org