Sacramento, CA 95816
This is an anything-but-Dickens holiday season for local theaters as they elect for eclectic holiday shows instead of the old Christmas Carol chestnut (with the exception of Scrooge at Chautauqua Playhouse). Instead, companies are opting for quirkier productions with smaller casts. And you can’t get much quirkier than David Sedaris’ SantaLand Diaries, and you can’t get a much smaller cast than a one-man monologue.
Capital Stage combines the sardonic piece that made National Public Radio commentator and essayist Sedaris famous with the talents of local favorite funnyman Gary Alan Wright, best known for his work at the now-defunct Foothill Theatre Company. The result is a fun alternative choice in this sometimes oversaccharined season of fluffy frivolity.
In SantaLand Diaries, Sedaris writes about his true-life hellish foray into Winter Wonderland as a New York Macy’s elf, a temp job he held for one very long holiday shopping season. It’s sarcastic, cynical and silly, with just a touch of sweetness stirred in to make it seasonally satisfying.
However, doing Sedaris’ very first signature piece has its risks. First, Sedaris has such a distinctive voice that it initially feels wrong for anyone else doing his material. And monologues can be pretty static performances.
But thanks to the skillful balancing act of incorporating just the right amount of humor and humanity on Wright’s part, and the wise choice by director Janis Stevens to add physicality to Wright’s performance, this SantaLand Diaries hits all the right marks.
There isn’t much plot, except for Crumpet (Sedaris’ choice for a nom de elf) surviving a variety of kids, Kris Kringles, fellow cranky elves, pushy parents, forced merriment, and the ever-present Christmas music playing on, and on, and on, and on, and on. Just the sight of Wright in his elf ensemble of a green velvet vest, red-and-white-striped socks, curled elf slippers and forlorn floppy hat is enough to bring on the laughs.
But Wright wisely ramps up the already funny dialogue with funny gestures, grimaces, the use of stuffed animal props and forays into the audience to heighten the hilarity.
It’s not a long show—80 minutes—but that’s just the right amount of time for a sardonic take on Christmas; any more and it would border on churlish. But Sedaris was wise enough to end it with a sweet moment that brings the belief of the holiday back home.
There’s an added bonus in having it at Capital Stage on the Delta King: the trek through the beautifully decorated Old Sacramento, with Victorian buildings festooned in holiday splendor that dares you to stay cynical this holiday season.
It’s a picture-perfect real-life Christmas card.