Adapted for the Stage by: Joe Mantello
Directed by: Jeremy Wechsler
At Theater Wit
Hilarious Anti-Christmas Classic Celebrates the Darker Side of the Holidays.
Christmas is a time of peace, love, and goodwill. It is a time when families get together to share in the spirit of the season. At time when people walk by with smiles on their faces and act just a little bit nicer to one another. That is unless you are a cynical middle-aged unemployed gay man living in New York City forced into taking a position as a Macy’s Christmas elf. And so begins David Sedaris’s anti-holiday classic, The Santaland Diaries.
An autobiographical around of his holiday season spent working as a Macy’s Christmas elf, Sedaris’s story revolves around a character named David (or Crumpet the elf) played wonderfully by Mitchell Fain. Despite the fame of David Sedaris I have read very little of his writing, but this evening has made me want start learning more about him. His astute observations of people and the hypocrisy of certain holiday traditions are often hilarious and equally relatable. He makes the mundane extraordinary and paints vivid images of people we all have met and easily relate to. If you have ever worked a customer service job, particularly during the holidays, this is the show for you. For these are the people, the ideas, and the situations you have dealt with hundreds of times. It is easy to see why this show has become a staple show of the holidays and why Mitchell Fain has returned for his 4th year.
Mitchell Fain has dead on comic timing and just the right glint of joy sprinkled on to his cynical nature. He plays with the audience and makes the piece his own, with modern references that were clearly not in the original version. He is like a sassy friend that can dish out insults and treat you like a waste of space, but still be great company for the evening. You want him to make fun of you and say off color comments because you know it is going to be hilarious, even if it’s at your expense.
Jeremy Wechsler’s direction is the glue that holds the show together. The atmosphere is so bright, sugary, and magical it seems as though you have entered into Santa’s Winterland. It just makes the cynicism and content of the show that much more effective (props to set designer Joey Wade). A small aspect that really adds to the atmosphere is the pre-show music. The rocked-up versions of classic songs along with Macys advertisements made me feel like I was at the mall. The dichotomy between the atmosphere and content makes this show pure joy.
What makes this show more amusing is that at the very beginning Mitchell explains that David Sedaris has publicly stated that he hates every production of this show, but he still cashes the checks. This show is his Christmas cash cow, in many ways mirroring his opinion of the holiday season. For all of its cynicism, there is a light-hearted aspect to the evening. It sheds some light on the darker side of the holidays, but still brims with Christmas spirit in a strange sort of way. It’s like the holiday gathering where everyone gets wasted and trashes the relatives that aren’t there. Not exactly the spirit of the season, but much closer to the truth than one might anticipate. This show is an oversized candy cane laced with arsenic.
Date of Review: 12/3/2010
For full show information, check out The Santaland Diaries page at Theatre In Chicago.
At Theater Wit 1229 W. Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL. Tickets $18-$30. Regular performance schedule: Thursday at 7:30PM, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 PM and 9:30 PM, and Sunday at 3:00PM and 7:00PM. Additional shows Dec. 21 and 22 at 7:30 PM and Dec. 23 at 7:30 PM and 9:30 PM.