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Common Ground Theatre’s second annual presentation of The SantaLand Diaries, which again stars Joe Brack and resumes Dec. 20-23 at the Durham, NC theater, is an entertaining evening staged with brio by director Rachel Klem. For the second straight year, veteran actor and comedian Joe Brack sits in the seat of the scornful as he recites and reenacts former Raleigh resident David Sedaris’ eye-rolling misadventures while working as a supremely disgruntled Elf named Crumpet in SantaLand in Macy’s in New York City during the frantic last days before Christmas.
Brack’s take on Sedaris’ embarrassing ordeal is much more sardonic than Jesse R. Gephart’s comparably bemused approach in Automatic Vaudeville’s rival production, which resumes Dec. 21-24 at Raleigh Charter High School under the direction of Maggie Rasnick. The problem with sitting in the seat of the scornful while you skewer everyone else’s peccadilloes with venomous observations is that it makes you sound bitter, increasingly bitter. True, David Sedaris dipped his pen in acid to report this unhappy chapter in his own autobiography—but he did demonstrate some affection for his intellectually challenged co-workers and the increasingly out-of-control Macy’s customers, many of whom violated all norms of decency in their desperation to fight their way through the long lines and get their child’s picture taken with Santa Claus.
Much of the time, Joe Brack is just a tad too grumpy and too acid in his scathing observations to get all the humor out of The SantaLand Diaries. I’m not suggesting that he turn his perpetual frown upside-down and create a kinder, gentler character—just that he realize that relentless negativity is just as taxing on the audience as some of the gross stupidity of Macy’s employees and customers that David Sedaris gleefully lampoons in The SantaLand Diaries. Joe Brack needs to find more of that glee to leaven his performance.
Common Ground Theatre presents The SantaLand Diaries Wednesday-Saturday, Dec. 20-23, at 8 p.m. at 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina. $14 ($12 students and seniors), with Wednesday and Thursday tickets half price. 919/698-3870 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Common Ground Theatre: http://www.cgtheatre.com/. David Sedaris: http://www.barclayagency.com/sedaris.html. The SantaLand Diaries: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0822216310.