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Monday, 29 November 1999 18:00

The SantaLand Diaries

Written by Chris Gibson
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Stray Dog Theatre

Through December 22, 2007
Reviewed by Chris Gibson
If you're the type of person whose view of Christmas is a bit left of center, then Stray Dog Theatre's production of The SantaLand Diaries, is the must-see event of the season. The SantaLand Diaries is a brilliant and biting series of comic riffs on Christmas from the point of view of a former Macy's elf.

The play by Joe Mantello, is a clever adaptation of David Sedaris's diaries and holiday-themed monologues, such as Season's Greeetings. And while it may be cynical in tone, there's a touching payoff that gives the piece heart, without taking away its edge.

The action starts with the character's discovery of a help wanted ad seeking full and part-time elves. Though he initially pokes fun at the prospect of having to wear a ridiculous costume as a work uniform, he applies for the job. We then follow the character through the interview process, his hiring, and the intensive elf training program.

Along the way we're introduced to all the intricacies that make up the world of SantaLand. Every nook and cranny of this seasonal display is explained, including the "magic corner", where nervous kids go to throw up, and the "magic tree", that actually looks more like a model of the large intestine. We also get to learn about all the different kinds of elves, like "greeter elves" and "magic-window elves" and "cash register elves". Another scene focuses on his impressions of each, unique Santa, including one who takes his job far too seriously, and never loses character, even when he's on a break.

One of the more interesting aspects of the play is the way it looks at how adults behave and interact with their children when visiting Santa. The cruelty and stupidity that is displayed by parents in their quest to fill some void in their lives, is as sad as it is funny.

Will Ledbetter's performance is flawless. He commands the stage like a seasoned stand up comedian, feeding off of the energy of the crowd. Over the course of the night he delivers spot-on portrayals of the characters he encounters as well. His over excited, cheerleading, elf-trainer had the audience enthusiastically spelling out the letters in Santa's name. And though it may be slightly offensive to some, I rocked with spasms at his interpretation of a little Asian girl who can't understand Santa's request for milk and cookies on Christmas Eve.

One of the highlights of the show occurs when Ledbetter puts on his elfin wardrobe. His look of disgust in reaction to the audience's gales of laughter is priceless. Nicole Winning's costume design is a tacky delight in red and green, complete with candy cane stockings.

Edward Coffield's direction meshes perfectly with Ledbetter's work. There's enough variety in the presentation of the various segments to sustain interest, and the pace is kept up tempo without ever seeming rushed.

This is a painfully funny and moving show, that's intended for mature audiences.

Stray Dog Theatre's production of The SantaLand Diaries continues through December 22nd (2007) at the Tower Grove Abbey. Call 314-865-1995 for ticket information, or visit them online at www.straydogtheatre.org

 

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