Regional Reviews: Phoenix
This 80-minute monologue tells the story of an unemployed man in his thirties who, rechristened as Crumpet the elf, finds things aren't exactly that merry when he is employed working in the vast Santa Land at Macy's flagship Herald Square, New York store. Sedaris' intimate view of working in the happy land of Santa is full of his signature barbed wit, colorful language, and human behavior antidotes. He perfectly lays out the many horrors that he encounters, from the ridiculous costume and requisite, perpetual cheery smile he is forced to wear to the many humorous and scary interactions with the people he has to deal with. From overeager children to demanding parents and even some innocent foreigners who have just wandered into the wrong line by accident, these moments make up the bulk of the play and are where Sedaris and May excel in showing us the true nature of individuals who are just trying to get through the holidays. The Santaland Diaries is more of a character study than a full-fledged play, with an ending that hints at happiness but pulls back in delivering anything remotely cheery.
May's natural sly appeal works well in delivering Sedaris' tart and comical observations, though there are hints of sweetness and vulnerability beneath his well-mannered deliverybut just a few. His performance keeps the naughty moments sharp (with a bit of sting), with just a little softness that creeps in around the edges to stay truthful and not completely jaded. He also works well to ensure the part becomes that of an "every man" who is familiar to anyone who took a job because they were desperate or who has had to deal with irate customers.
Director David Ira Goldstein's clear direction keeps May's performance truthful and never over the top and manic, thereby retaining the realism of the piece. The combination of Paul Black's colorful scenic design and Kish Finnegan's vibrant and comical costume brings out both the joy and insipid craziness of the season.
Performed in repertory with Katie McFadzen's brilliant one woman version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, The Santaland Diaries is perfect counter programming for anyone who is looking for a theatrical holiday alternative. Depicting crude yet honest experiences, it may highlight more of the cynicism of the holidays, especially in how it brings out the best and the worst in people, but there is an ember of seasonal warmth burning inside Crumpet's heartunderneath that ugly, green felt costume.
The Santaland Diaries at Arizona Theatre Company runs through December 23rd, 2015, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased at www.arizonatheatre.org or by calling 602-2566995.
Director: David Ira Goldstein