Friday, November 30, 2012

Review: (Vancouver) The Santaland Diaries

Ryan Neil (photo credit: Tim Matheson)

When Santa is spelled S-A-T-A-N
by Chris Lane

Santaland Diaries certainly isn't your typically heart-warming Christmas yarn. Based on a short story by David Sedaris, it stays true to his politically-incorrect style of dark humour and social commentary.

The original is an autobiographical short story about Sedaris's experience as an elf in Santaland at a bustling Macy's in New York City. The story is filled with tales of screaming children, overbearing parents and the ridiculous and sometimes vile antics of harried shoppers in the lead-up to Christmas.

it's hard not to laugh at Beil's cynical Christmas elf

Actor Ryan Beil gives all he's got, including some of his dignity, as Crumpet the Christmas elf in this hilarious one-man show (with bells on). Beil wonderfully embodies Sedaris and successfully captures his sardonic and self-deprecating voice. He is a frenetic version of Sedaris (or Crumpet), and remains impressively energetic throughout the 75-minute one-act show. While his delivery is sometimes faster than it needs to be, it's hard not to laugh at Beil's cynical Christmas elf.

Fans of David Sedaris might be wondering how much this theatrical adaptation, by Joe Mantello, adds to what has already been a very popular written and radio piece. This production brings the words to life and includes many clever sound effects and visuals. A few of the effects, however, seem trivial and unnecessary; perhaps director John Murphy was trying a bit too hard to add value to David Sedaris's work. Nevertheless, the story translates very well into a piece that keeps the audience laughing right to the end.

Santaland Diaries is an excellent foil to the more traditional Christmas-season offerings with their morals and endearing small children. That being said, while Sedaris's jokes may be cruel at times, he's always just nice enough to be a likable and charming central character. This production certainly does justice to Sedaris's trademark wit, so both fans and newcomers to Sedaris can laugh away the holiday stress with Crumpet.

Santaland Diaries runs until December 29th at the Arts Club's Revue stage on Granville Island.

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