Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review for Santaland Diaries in the Door County Advocate

The holiday season is in full swing. It’s a time for family traditions and good cheer. One of the most treasured traditions is the appearance of Santa in department stores and shopping malls. Here children get the chance to meet him in person and ask for something special. It’s a magical moment for kids.
When I lived in Chicago, I remember being taken to see the Marshall Field’s Santa. I was excited and could not wait for the moment to see him. My parents were not thrilled when they saw the long lines, but they persevered.
The Macy’s store in New York City is possibility the most famous location for kids to visit him. The tradition has been going on for a long time and was famously chronicled in the movie, “Miracle On 34th Street.” Even though I have seen the movie many times, I still find it to be a special Christmas movie.
I imagine we assume that all the Santas and helpers are having a great time. Presumably they are upbeat and full of merriment. That may be true, but a different picture is cast in David Sedaris’ “The Santaland Diaries,” a hilarious play currently running at Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay.
The character portrayed by Dan Klarer is autobiographical. The show portrays what Sedaris had to do during very lean times, when he first came to New York and was out of work looking for a job — any job.
Sedaris calls his character by his first name, David. He becomes one of the elves at the New York Macy’s store and goes by the name “Crumpet.” Some of his fellow elves call themselves Snowball, Flakey, Walrus and Sleigh Bells. Their job was to greet the children and parents. They were there to help make the experience fun and enjoyable for everyone.
What we find out in this show is that there is a downside to being one of Santa’s helpers. We hear about the unruly kids he has to deal with. There are also nasty parents who are bored, in a rush, and are either yelling or slapping their children. It’s not a pretty picture.
David depicts various situations that he remembers quite well. He uses dolls and stuffed animals through which he tells his sad but funny stories. While he is doing this, he also tells the audience about his fellow elves. He finds some of them intolerable to work with. Some are a little crazy. One asks the people at Macy’s if he could work as an elf year-round.
 As the play progresses David becomes more jaded. He finds the situation barely tolerable. Everything seems so chaotic and not like Christmas should be. He wonders if he can stick it out. Some of the other elves start calling in sick or just stop showing up. Even though he starts drinking, David hangs in and deals with it. He needs the money.
All this goes on for most of the show, and there is a sudden shift at the end. David comes across a Santa who deals with Christmas differently.
This Santa is less focused on gifts and toys and tries to instill in those he meets a sense of love and warmth for each other. This Santa tells people that the holiday is not about what we get but how we treat each other. The elf is very moved by this Santa. He is struck by his humanity and genuine care for others.
Dan Klarer is wonderful in this one-man show. He brings a special element of hilarity to the part. He is a joy to watch and makes the most of the different situations.
I loved how he seemed to understand his character’s frustration and cynical nature. Yet, I was also very moved by Klarer at the end. In that moment he showed what a superb actor he is. Appropriately so, the show’s director, Robert Boles, told me Klarer is one of the best actors he has worked with. No truer words were spoken.
I must also give credit to James Valcq, who designed the set. When you walk into the theater, you immediately see a bizarre arrangement of toys, stuffed animals, blow-up dolls, plastic figurines, Christmas lights, a fake fireplace and much more. The set adds to the hilarity of the show.
This show contains some adult language and references that might be inappropriate for more sensitive viewers. The show is not appropriate for children.
The Santaland Diaries runs at 2, 4 and 7:30 p.m. selected Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at Third Avenue Playhouse, 239 N. Third Ave., Sturgeon Bay. Tickets cost $15 for adults, $10 for students. For tickets or specific show times and dates, call (920) 743-1760. online article

1 comment:

  1. Finally got to see Dan in The Santaland Diaries yesterday. He was fantastic!! What fun! Better go see it before the run is over. Give yourself a special Christmas present, a hilarity break. A special treat is getting to see Dan do cartwheels - right there on stage.