REVIEW OF THE SANTALAND DIARIES “A refreshingly different type of Christmas show” – Rich Mehrenberg, PA Theatre Guide

Christmas theatrical productions and Christmas foods have a lot in common.  For example, “A Christmas Carol” is like a candy cane.  They are both ubiquitous during the holiday season.  They might be good once in a while,  but they are very easy to get sick of. Other shows, like “Elf” or “A Christmas Story” are like Grandma’s gingerbread cookies…sweet and nostalgic. Finally, “The Santaland Diaries” would probably best be compared to a glass of boozy eggnog.  Both are an acquired taste, and neither one is meant for the little ones.

 . . .a refreshingly different type of Christmas show. . .

“The Santaland Diaries” is a one-man show at the Fulton Theater in Lancaster which consists of a series of monologues delivered by a middle-aged man who is down on his luck.  In order to pay the bills, he takes a seasonal job as an elf at the Macy’s Department Store during the holiday season.  “Crumpet” (the man’s elf name) tells us a series of off-the-wall stories about the spoiled children, demanding parents, and wacko co-workers that he has encountered at his job.

The play is written by the well-known, snarky essayist David Sedaris.  It is based on a series of real-life experiences, such as the time he made up a fib out of boredom and told customers that Cher had stepped in as Santa’s replacement. Common audience reactions to such stories run the gamut from amusement to bewilderment to pity.

A large part of the humor in Sedaris’s original presentation was found in this description of the humiliating things he had to say and do as “Crumpet the Elf.” The vibe was not unlike those old cartoons of a bulldog in a pink dress, being pushed around by a little girl with a baby carriage.

“Crumpet” is played by the Fulton’s artistic director, Marc Robin. Robin begins the play in a “Grumpy the Dwarf” t-shirt and khakis, before the inevitable transformation into his “work clothes” that include a large pointy hat, tights, bells, and a ridiculous pair of over-sized candy-cane shaped slippers.

However, for the most part, Robin downplays the “I don’t want to be here” aspect of the character.  He seems more earnest in his approach and enjoys talking to the crowd.  Several times during the show, he would walk up to a particular audience member and direct his monologue specifically at that one person. This approach is effective in making the character more relatable, and so avoids attempts to milk excessive laughs.

Robin has a great gift for voices.  Whether it be an impersonation of Billy Holiday crooning “Away in the Manger” or an entire dysfunctional Jersey family, Robin uses his considerable vocal skills to paint detailed portraits in our minds.

It isn’t sweet or sentimental.  Nobody learns “the reason for the season.”  Instead, it serves as a fun house mirror that reflects the potential absurdity of the holiday.

Running time: Approximately 90 minutes without an intermission.

Advisory: Adult humor and content.

“The Santaland Diaries” runs until December 17, 2016 and is presented at Fulton Theatre in Lancaster. For more information, click here.