Christmas sneer

Season’s Greetings and The SantaLand Diaries

Mario Cabrera continues the tradition of men-in-tights theater in <i>Season’s Greetings</i> and <i>The SantaLand Diaries</i>.

Mario Cabrera continues the tradition of men-in-tights theater in Season’s Greetings and The SantaLand Diaries.

Photo By A. Hass

Rated 4.0

It’s ironic that the first local Christmas production off the block is aimed at those who wince at Christmas displays in October, pre-Thanksgiving toy ads and the over-saturation of the season. The Sacramento Theatre Company presents David Sedaris’ Season’s Greetings and The SantaLand Diaries as an antidote to the saccharine-sweet sentimentality that overshadows the holidays.

For those who get the Hallmark heebie-jeebies, the true holiday savior is Sedaris. Sedaris, a regular storyteller on National Public Radio whose collections of essays are best-sellers, was once an out-of-work New York actor who answered an employment ad for a Macy’s Christmas elf. The SantaLand Diaries, Sedaris’ subsequent sardonic look at his experience as a cynical, Southern gay man paid to spread cheer, was a radio hit and launched his career.

The SantaLand Diaries is being paired with Season’s Greetings, Sedaris’ spoof of the strange brag rags known as family Christmas letters.

Starring in both productions is the multi-faceted, talented Mario Cabrera. His elastic face; slow, sideways glances; and hyper personality perfectly capture the camp of these Christmas tales. In Season’s Greetings, Cabrera plays the uptight, matronly Jocelyn Dunbar, who reads her annual Christmas family newsletter. We soon discover all has not been well with the Dunbars, ever since her husband’s 22-year-old illegitimate Vietnamese daughter showed up at the family doorstep.

Director Gregg Coffin gives the stagnant situation of letter reading some action with the creative use of small details, such as an invisible family dog and the hanging of decorations. Though most of the piece is sinfully funny, there are times it lacks the subtleties of Sedaris’ subsequent pieces and comes off as simply mean-spirited.

The SantaLand Diaries is just as politically incorrect and just as funny. Cabrera brings us into the world of the working elf by illustrating pushy parents, ill-behaved children, naughty elves and the different types of Santas. He is a hoot to watch.

However, though the talented Cabrera hits all the marks, what’s missing in these plays is Sedaris himself. When Sedaris delivers his monologues, his soft, lispy voice softens the sarcasm and adds a wistful, sentimental quality to the performance. His delivery unveils a hidden vulnerability, something that’s missing in this production. Still, the two pieces are far more palatable than overdosing on boatloads of sugarplums.