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Theater Review: Theatre in the Park’s ‘The Santaland Diaries’ Hauls Out the Holly (and Laughs) for a 13th Time

Five years ago, my husband and I braved the crowds and took our kids to Macy’s Herald Square in New York City to see Santa. Yes, this is the same store that inspired the classic holiday film Miracle on 34th Street and ushers in Santa via a televised parade. It took hours to weave our way through a winding gumdrop forest of fake firs to get to Santa’s door. And when we got there, we were methodically rushed in and out to make way for the hordes of families behind us.

And maybe that is why I reveled in Theatre in the Park’s production of The Santaland Diaries last year and was so anxious to return for a seasonal nudge from Crumpet again.

A wishful actor, David, arrives in New York with aspirations to work on a soap opera. His sugarplum dreams are dashed after he settles for a job working as Crumpet the Elf at Macy’s. Inspired by an essay by David Sedaris, The Santaland Diaries is a hilarious, albeit irreverent, holiday story. In fact, it might be billed the anti-Christmas alter ego to Theatre in the Park’s family-friendly production of A Christmas Carol.  

Here Jesse Gephart dons the candy cane striped tights as Crumpet, just as he has done for the last 13 years. And perhaps it’s that familiarity with Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries, along with his skill as an accomplished performer and knack for physical comedy, that makes the production work so well. Gephart flits about the stage, improvises spur-of-the-moment, chaffs the audience, and delivers the laughs for a solid 80 minutes sans intermission. Afterward, in the spirit of the show, Gephart (as Crumpet) even poses for photos in Santa’s chair.

To be clear, this is not a family-friendly show. For those unfamiliar with Sedaris’ humor, this play is presented in the same vein as a stand-up comedy show. So, leave the littles at home.

But like most good comedy, Joe Mantello’s stage adaptation of Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries, makes a point, this one about self-inflicted, picture-perfect holiday ideals that are steeped in retail propaganda more so than family or tradition. Indeed, in retrospect, our sojourn to Macy’s five years ago was more about my husband and me fulfilling some Miracle on 34th Street fantasy than making memories for our children. Perhaps Crumpet isn’t the only one who needs a reminder of the goodness of the holiday season.

Theatre in the Park’s production of The Santaland Diaries runs through December 22nd. For more information visit https://www.theatreinthepark.com/ or the RDU on Stage Calendar page.

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