Santaland Diaries: A Christmas Treat

The eighth annual production of David Sedaris’ Santaland Diaries, adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello and presented by Combined Artform and Beck-n-Call, is a refreshing, candy-coated slice of joy in these gloomy days of recessionary reflexes. The 90-minute monologue, directed by Lux Obscura (sounds like we have an elf prank here), tells the story of how David, deliciously brought to life by David Sinaiko, finds himself as Crumpet the Elf at Macy’s in Manhattan.

The audience is met with a spare black stage consisting of a black box at center stage, another box at stage left, and a highback chair downstage right draped in a blue cloth. We find David sitting in a coffee shop, reading the newspaper and chuckling to himself over a want ad for an elf to work at Macy’s during the holidays. David is a wise guy and wonders who in his right mind would ever take such a ridiculous job. When David reaches into his pocket to pay for his coffee, he remembers he’s unemployed and decides, coyly to himself, that maybe he should think about this idiotic job a little more. When his roommate dares him to apply for it, there’s no turning back.

One can only guess that at some point in Sedaris’ life, he did indeed find himself working as an elf at Macy’s in Manhattan, judging from his minute observations of the job and the people occupying Santaland, an elaborate fantasy land where Macy’s hosts Santa for three weeks before Christmas. Sinaiko is hilarious as we watch David attempt to fit into corporate elfdom from his sardonic perspective.

Together, Sedaris and Sinaiko take us through the universes of Christmas as we think it should be and Christmas as it is, each one taking our hand and leading us to the holiday mirror. We experience the reality of retail, the unblemished awe of children, their tantrums, their bossy and exasperated parents, flaky elves, bitter elves with higher aspirations, deluded Santas, clever Santas, obnoxious Santas, and, of course, the monolith of Macy’s management, piped in through the voice of Veronica Klaus. The artifice of money is everywhere.

Sinaiko divinely slips into each persona and out again into David, who remains stuck swallowing his contempt to make ends meet. With all the demands on elves at Macy’s, the lines between David and Crumpet begin to blur. By the time Christmas approaches, Santaland is real.

Santaland Diaries leaves you with the warm, tingly mirth of a six-year old child who just sat on Santa’s knee. It’s well worth experiencing.

Santaland Diaries plays through December 30 at Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission Street, San Francisco. Show times are 8 p.m. and 10 p.m, with matinees at 3 p.m. See box office website (www.brownpapertickets.com/event/89315) or call 800-838-3006 for specific times as the schedule varies.

- Eryka M. Fraczek
Member, SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle