The Santaland Diaries
I have one vivid memory of going to visit Santa as a child. As a kid I was so shy I wouldn't even speak to my relatives, so the thought of sitting on some random stranger's lap and telling him my secret desires was both bizarre and horrifying. I spent the afternoon frozen in terror and even the promise of a candy cane couldn't coax me up there.
So Seattle Public Theater's current production of David Sedaris's "The Santaland Diaries" about his experience as one of Santa's elves at Macy's strikes a nerve, as I imagine it will with anyone who has childhood memories of visits to Santa, or children of his or her own.
"The Santaland Diaries" is a one-man show with Patrick Lennon playing David, directed by Kelly Kitchens. Seattle Public Theater is playing two Christmas shows at once on their intimate stage, so the set, designed by Rick Lorig, consists of a Santaland backdrop, two mobile and festive elf homes and a variety of giant packages carried around and stacked in different locations during the course of the show.
In the show, David (Lennon) is a 33-year-old man who arrived in New York three weeks ago with no job. In desperation and in response to a dare from a roommate he answers an ad for a Christmas elf and plunges headlong into a surreal journey into Santaland, beginning with an arduous interview process, ending with the question, "Are you interested in being a full-time elf or an evening and weekend elf?"
When he gets the job he transforms from an average-looking guy in average clothes into the very picture of an elf, with red and white striped tights, a sparkly green smock and oversized pointy shoes.
We learn all about elf training, from the relentlessly perky trainer who leads everyone in a Santa cheer ("Give me an S...") to the selection of an elf name. David selects the very dignified "Crumpet."
Later in the show he describes the disparate personalities of the different Santas, one of whom calls out to him, "Oh little love, little love! Could you bring me a lozenge?" and David snarls back, "I have a name: Crumpet!"
Each area of Santaland has a code name, including the Oh My God corner, where visitors first catch sight of the line leading to Santa's lap and utter that phrase.
Working full-time as an elf takes its toll on David as he works his way through the various elf positions available: Pointer Elves, who rather resemble pointer dogs in their behavior, Photo Elves, in charge of taking pictures, Magic Window Elves, who beckon visitors to behold Santa through a window, and Santa's Helper Elves, who remove and replace children from Santa's lap in assembly line fashion. No matter where they're working, elves are required to be perky and cheerful!
Eventually David's fevered brain rearranges the letters in Santaland and comes up with Satanland, and he begins to replace the word Santa every time he hears it with Satan, with hilarious results.
"The Santaland Diaries" is an entertaining glimpse into that realm most of us only know from the outside, and gives us a look at the worst in ourselves and in our interactions with others, but also at some of the best in ourselves. At one point he describes one particular Santa who has a special gift of making every single person who comes through feel special and valued.
Patrick Lennon holds the stage well, interacting directly with the audience at times. If you're looking for something fun and off the beaten track of Christmas tradition, I'd recommend "The Santaland Diaries" as a well-spent evening. Advertised for mature elves only!
"Santaland Diaries" runs through Dec. 24 at Seattle Public Theater, 7312 W. Greenlake Dr. N. in Seattle. For info or tickets, call 206-524-1300 or visit online at www.seattlepublictheater.org.