Review: The Santaland Diaries
Benjamin T. Ismail seems to have been born to play Crumpet the Elf, one of Santa’s helpers in the holiday hell that is Macy’s Herald Square department store at Christmastime.
Based on the experiences of writer David Sedaris, this short, mostly one-person play was adapted by Joe Mantello and has become a staple of modern holiday theater fare. This is not the first time, nor even the second, that Capital Stage has presented it. The Santaland Diaries has none of the saccharine sweetness of many shows of the season—and plenty of the sarcastic and sardonic wit for which Sedaris is known. Director Shannon Mahoney savors the satirist’s dazzling wit and dizzying speed, barreling through the plot like Santa on Christmas Eve.
The story goes like this: Newly arrived in New York City and desperate for work, Sedaris discovered a newspaper want ad for Santa’s assistants at Macy’s. Mortified at the prospect but in need of money, he donned the striped leggings, baggy shorts, vest and goofy hat of Crumpet.
Ismail’s elastic face and expressive voice are the perfect vehicles for this behind the scenes look at the making of Santaland “sausage”: the processing of visitors through a maze of false mirrors, fake trees and manufactured glee. He delights in recounting the antics of pushy parents, of kids peeing in the potted plants, of ambitious elves, devious acts of delusion and some Santas who prefer little bottles of booze to little boys and girls.