Automatic Vaudeville’s smartly staged and sassily performed second annual presentation of The SantaLand Diaries, playing Dec. 14-16 and 21-24 at Raleigh Charter High School, is a powerful antidote to all those oh-so-sweet, ever-so-sentimental seasonal shows now playing a tear-jerking tune on the heartstrings of Triangle theatergoers. In expressing his wonderfully warped view of Macy’s employees and shoppers during the increasing frantic and stressful countdown of shopping days before Christmas, David Sedaris dipped his pen in acid to write the arch and unashamedly cynical autobiographical National Public Radio “Morning Edition” commentary that evolved into the side-splitting R-rated essay that Joe Mantello brilliantly adapted for the stage.
Triangle theater veteran Jesse R. Gephart is a scream as he energetically reenacts Sedaris’ hilarious experiences applying for the job, training, and actually working as an Elf named Crumpet in SantaLand in Macy’s in New York City. Whether reciting Sedaris’ invariably wry, eyebrow-raising reminiscences about the ordeal of Elf training and the increasingly stressful weeks in SantaLand, or about interacting with dim-witted fellow elves and deranged Santas and deranged Macy’s customers (it’s hard to tell who is scarier, the Santas or the customers), tall, whippet-thin Jesse Gephart really gets in touch with his sardonic side and channels David Sedaris with great style and wit. Gephart’s facial expressions are priceless as he recounts with growing alarm the horror of sharing smoke breaks with co-workers who inquire of management if they can work in SantaLand year-round and/or wear their costumes home!
RCHS faculty member Maggie Rasnick not only gets a sharply etched and completely convincing comic characterization from her former student Jesse Gephart, but she also stages this 65-minute one-man show with great gusto on a splendid Elf-dressing-room set imaginatively conceived and constructed by Thomas Mauney, while Gephart prances to and fro wearing an absolutely hilarious baggy red-and-green Elf costume—complete with a cute Elf hat that has to be seen to be believed and precious pointy-toed Elf shoes—created by Callie C. Gannaway.
All in all, The SantaLand Diaries is in good hands; and Automatic Vaudeville earns kudos for repeating this highly entertaining production. Star Jesse Gephart and director Maggie Rasnick and the show’s creative team do a fine job of making this by-now highly familiar story by former Raleigh resident David Sedaris very fresh and very, very funny.
Automatic Vaudeville presents The SantaLand Diaries Thursday-Saturday, Dec. 14-16 and 21-23, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 24, at 6 p.m. at Raleigh Charter High School, 1111 Haynes St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $15 ($10 student and seniors), except all tickets $100 on Christmas Eve. 919/859-4682. Raleigh Charter High School: http://www.raleighcharterhs.org/. David Sedaris: http://www.barclayagency.com/sedaris.html. The SantaLand Diaries: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0822216310.