Tis’ the Season for Snarkiness:
New Village Arts spreads some holiday sneer with its cheeky and crass “Santaland Diaries”
By Donnie Matsuda
Photos by Adam Brick
This holiday season, it’s a cruel yule for starving New York actor cum disgruntled department store temp worker, Crumpet the Elf. His dreams of becoming more than a soap opera star are dashed (though he did have a pretty good stint on “One Life to Live”) and he’s stuck working retail – no, even worse, working at the bottom of the candy cane ladder as a disrespected elf in Macy’s Santaland – just to make ends meet.
It’s enough to curdle anyone’s egg nog this time of year.
Fortunately for us, Crumpet is taking us along for the ride all the way from the first day of Elf training to the last shopping day before Christmas. And it all plays out in The Santaland Diaries, an outrageous one man, one act show that is akin to a stand-up comedy routine chock full of crass commentary about the oddities and annoyances of the holiday season. The show itself originated from a 1992 essay by David Sedaris and was adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello in 1996. Since then, it has become somewhat of a seasonal staple for regional theatres around the country, providing an unconventional way to commemorate the darker side of the “most wonderful” time of the year.
For the fourth year in a row, New Village Arts is reviving this contemporary holiday classic. This show has proven to be a successful one for the company and it is easy to see why. Their slick and sarcastic staging does the material justice and really provides an edgy, yet enjoyable evening of seasonally-appropriate theatre, without too much Ho-ho-ho-ing.
While it’s a first rate production all around, the true shining star atop NVA’s fierce and wickedly funny tree is Daren Scott as Crumpet the Elf (who, by the way, changes his name to Blisters after just two weeks on the job). He expertly embodies the wry wit of Sedaris’ snarky asides and exudes a cheeky charm that is just the right mix of “ho hum” and “bah humbug.” Not only that, but he is also a comedic chameleon who expertly morphs from one crazy character to the next, from his kooky co-workers (his rendition of over-mediated elf “Ginger Snap” is hilarious) to obnoxious moms (his turn as a conservative mother politely requesting a “whiter” Santa inspires chuckles) to thuggish dads (his impersonation of a Jersey dad asking Santa for “a wife with big tits” is a must-see). He also dabbles in the bevy of Santas who parade through shift after shift, which includes get-em-on-and-off-my-lap-as-quick-as-you-can Santa, dark-but-not-too-dark-skinned Santa, depressed Santa, and spitting-vs.-just-frothing-at-the-mouth Santa.
Here, Daren Scott’s masterful performance is further enhanced by Tim Wallace’s festive and whimsical Santaland set design, which when lit with Chris Renda’s colorful lights, is as obnoxious and tacky as a Christmas sweater. Sound designer Adam Brick adds to the festivities with his light holiday music and his generic department store announcements, while costume designer Kate Stallons rocks around the elfin tree with Crumpet’s green velvet smock with gold trim, candy cane tights, and pointy shoes and hat. Her elf definitely shows up to this party with all his (jingle) bells on.
Finally, kudos also goes to director Samuel Sherman who makes his directorial debut with this production. While his work is heavily inspired by the original direction by New Village Arts Executive Artistic Director Kristianne Kurner, he manages to bring out the best (and the funniest) in his actor and keeps the breezy 80 minute intermission-less show moving faster than a reindeer on crack.
It should be rather obvious by now that this kind of crass entertainment is not for everyone (those offended by the frequent dropping of f-bombs or broad racial stereotypes should look elsewhere for their holiday fare). But if you’re looking for a little sarcasm to curl your candy cane or perhaps some savory cynicism to whet your appetite for the hellish holiday to come, then there’s no place like New Village Art’s snarky rendition of Santaland. When you visit, just be sure to steer clear of the yellow snow and tell Santa (or is it Satan?) that you’ve been real good all year long. Otherwise, (as Crumpet warns) he won’t just put a lump of coal in your stocking. He will actually come to your house in the dark of night and steal things, like your car, TV, furniture, refrigerator, and all your kitchen appliances.
Snappy holidays, everyone!!
The Santaland Diaries plays at New Village Arts Theatre through December 24th, 2011. Running time is 80 minutes with no intermission. This show contains strong language and is intended for mature audiences. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm, and Saturdays at 3pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $20. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (760) 433-3245 or visit www.NewVillageArts.org.
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