Santaland Diaries
by David Sedaris

Dates and Venue 22 November - 22 December 2012, Mon & Tues 7:30pm, Wed – Sat at 8pm, (Wed & Sat matinees at 2pm) | Revue Stage, Granville Island

Reviewer Shannon Rayne

Santaland Diaries, by funnyman and social satirist David Sedaris, is a fun romp through Macey’s Santaland over the chaotic Christmas season. The 75 minute one-man show is told from the perspective of an aspiring actor looking back on the winter of 1991 – the unforgettable year he was employed as a Christmas Elf in Macey’s popular Santaland. The play is told as one continuous story, with a series of short vignettes tying the whole piece together.

The production is laugh out loud funny but also contains many sentimental moments. Some of my favorites include vignettes involving interactions with children who still believe in the magic of Christmas.

There is no shortage of sarcastic moments, or overworked sarcastic elves either, which I loudly cheered for. Part of the genius of this production is that we get a privileged glance behind the scenes of a well loved Christmas event. When the camera isn’t flashing a $9.99 memory of little Billy squirming on Santa’s lap, we get to see the greed, consumerism and bitchy attitudes that run amok in packed malls at Christmas. The underlying social message of consumerism is delivered with subtlety and laughter – a great combination.

I was initially nervous to see a one man play, as these can drag on, especially in a larger theatre, but Ryan Beil gave an enthusiastic performance and director John Murphy used the stage and space creatively using the back wall as space to project text and images. The play was alive in both action and script, with both moving quite quickly, leaving Ryan Beil flushed and sweating. However, the play moved too fast, creating a rather enthusiastic tone, which didn’t always match the sombre and sarcastic writing of the script. I wanted to have more space to allow for laughter to build, as some of the funnier lines were delivered so quickly that the audience’s laughter continued past the next few lines, resulting in many lines being lost.

Though I did enjoy Santaland Diaries, I found myself rewriting the script in my head to make it more theatrical. In its original form, David Sedaris published Santaland Diaries as a comedic essay that became an instant hit. Joe Mantello adapted the essay for the stage, but kept it as someone reflecting back on a series of comical events, resulting in a funny but very long story. It never really felt like a play, with character development, obstacles or even a story arch. I kept waiting for this to change, for it to move forward, but it never did. Luckily the story that is told is a funny one, with much insight and great descriptions of the characters he encounters. And who doesn’t love watching a grown man running around with bells on the end of his feet?

© 2012 Shannon Rayne