Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Santaland Diaries
Arizona Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

Ron May
Photo by John Groseclose / Arizona Theatre Company
Well-known humorist and author David Sedaris got his first big break back in the early 1990s when he spoke on NPR about his miserable, real-life experience working as an elf at Macy's Santaland. Sedaris published his comical tales of woe in his first collection of satirical stories, "Barrel Fever," and the piece was then adapted for a one man show entitled The Santaland Diaries. Arizona Theatre Company is presenting a well-directed production of Sedaris' humorous tale starring Ron May who does well in delivering Sedaris' snarky persona. It results in a biting holiday remedy that is a perfect counterpoint to the dozens of saccharine sweet Christmas theatrical offerings around town.

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 delivery—but 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 heart—underneath 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 or by calling 602-256–6995.

Director: David Ira Goldstein
Scenic and Lighting Design: Paul Black
Costume Design: Kish Finnegan
Sound Design: Brian Jerome Peterson

Ron May

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