The Santaland Diaries at Frank Theatre

Joe Leary in Santaland. Photo by Tony Nelson.

Go to the Ordway and experience the “timeless enchantment” of Cinderella ($113 per ticket).  Or try the Guthrie’s A Christmas Carol, after 35 years still “as powerful and uplifting as it ever was” ($73).  Or maybe CTC’s “beloved” The Wizard Of Oz ($70).

All this overpriced holiday feel-good about to send you shrieking into the frozen night?

Frank Theatre has the antidote.  For a mere $25 ($15 for students and retirees) you can betake yourself to the niftily old-fashioned Women’s Club and see David Sedaris‘s wickedly funny The Santaland Diaries (Frank Theatre performing at the Women’s Club, through Dec 30) – one of the great bargains of the holiday season.

Sedaris, impoverished and recently arrived in New York City spends a harrowing Christmas working as an elf (Crumpet) at Macy’s.  Crumpet undergoes elf training and then is flung, like an ancient Christian into the Roman Coliseum, into “Santa Land,” guiding cranky children and their hysterical parents into Santa’s lap (“All I want for Christmas is for Proctor and Gamble to stop torturing animals,” asserts an earnest boy), working the “vomit corner” (where the kids get rid of their greasy Macy’s lunches), dealing with Snowball the smarmily flirtatious elf, the arch and mysterious Santa Santa – all the while trying not to go berserk and chew off everyone’s face.

Sedaris’s book, The Santaland Diaries, is hootingly funny, gleefully nasty and became, deservedly, an instant holiday classic.  It also makes for a terrific evening of theater.  The material, adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello, clocks in at an intermissionless 70 minutes.  A perfect length.

Sedaris and actor Joe Leary (reprising last year’s success) avoid the obvious pitfall: Crumpet is obnoxious but not off-puttingly bitter and repulsive.  He actually has a good time and admires (at some level) the people he merrily excoriates.  This makes him genuinely funny.  Leary rarely takes the energy level to 10 (another potential trap) and thus gives a modulated and charming performance.  He lets Sedaris do the nasty heavy lifting and has an infectious good time.  It’s good work – and no doubt he had excellent support from director Wendy Knox.

The designers  — Steve Rohde (sets), Kathy Kohl (costumes), Mike Wangen (lights) Sarah Pickett and Katharine Horowitz (sound) – transform the hoary old Women’s Club into a colorful Christmas wonderland.  Kitschy, but not overbearing.

Beware the generous bartender: my companion ordered a vodka on the rocks and received enough booze to kill one of the Wise Men’s camels.

Highly recommended.

For more information about John Olive please visit his website.

1 comment for “The Santaland Diaries at Frank Theatre

  1. Jim Pounds
    December 28, 2011 at 8:03 am

    Just a point of clarification, the tickets are actually $30 apiece once all of the fees are added for online purchase.

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