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Off-Broadway Series South Preview: A Disgruntled Macy's Department Store Elf Tells All in The SantaLand Diaries

December 14, 2002 - Raleigh, NC:


For its Christmas gift to Triangle theater-goers, Off-Broadway Series South chose The SantaLand Diaries, Joe Mantello's zany one-man show based on an autobiographical short story by Raleigh native, best-selling satirist, and well-known National Public Radio commentator David Sedaris (Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day). Steven Maler will direct Firefly Productions, Inc.'s traveling edition of this side-splitting R-rated comedy, which stars Craig Bentley as a surly out-of-work actor named David and his wonderfully wicked elfan alter ego Crumpet.

Forced to take a job as an elf in Macy's highly popular SantaLand section, David is mortified to be rechristened Crumpet. Suffice it to say that donning a silly elf costume, with its cartoon colors and its pointed hat and pointy-toed shoes, does not improve David's devilish disposition. Indeed, David/Crumpet's caustic commentary on the whole humiliating experience will keep the audience in stitches.

Like that famous volume from comedian George Carlin's old "Book Club" routine — How to Turn Unbearable Suffering into Extra Income — actor/author David Sedaris, with help from N.C. School of the Arts graduate and Tony-winning actor Joe Mantello (Angels in America), transformed an embarrassing episode of his New York sojourn into The SantaLand Diaries. The show made its Big Apple debut in 1996.

In Sedaris' dark night of the soul, when lack of funds forced him to impersonate a fairy-tale character, Sedaris turned his nightmare experience into sparkling prose. So, sit back and enjoy Sedaris' hilarious encounters with snippy Macy's supervisors; perky, well-meaning elf instructors; obnoxious, drunken, and lecherous Santa Clauses; verbally and physically abusive parents; and over-excited children alternately thrilled and terrified by having their photographs taken with Santa.

The SantaLand Diaries, which is performed without intermission, is highly familiar to Triangle audiences, thanks to stellar Woodpecker Productions' presentations at Raleigh, NC's Theatre in the Park in December 2000 and December 2001. New York actor/director Eric Woodall starred in both and set a very high standard for the riotous role of David/Crumpet. The 2000 production made Spectator Magazine's 10-best list.

A veteran of numerous roles in New York City, Washington, DC, and various regional theaters, actor Craig Bentley studied with Michael Kahn while earning an MFA degree from The Academy for Classical Acting at The Shakespeare Theatre at The George Washington University. Although he never worked as an elf at Macy's, Bentley did once audition to be a toy demonstrator at FAO Schwarz during the holidays.

Director/executive producer Steven Maler is co-president of Firefly Productions. In 2000, he directed the company's inaugural production of The SantaLand Diaries.

The Seattle Weekly claimed Sedaris' original short story is "quite possibly the thirty-one funniest pages of text published in the past quarter century.… David Sedaris slays me." And the Boston Herald called The SantaLand Diaries "the perfect alternative holiday treat."

In reviewing the stage version of The SantaLand Diaries, The Boston Globe critic wrote: "As irreverent as a drunken angel and twisted as Scrooge's spine, this one-man show is a welcome antidote to sugarplum fairies and ghosts of Christmas past."

The New York Times saluted this "delightfully thorny account of working as a Yuletide elf at Macy's" for its "priceless observations, both outrageous and subtle. [It is] destined to hold a place in the annals of American humor writing."

The SantaLand Diaries, wrote New York News Day, is "a sardonic, merrily subversive tale-just the antidote to bright-eyed joy before too many shopping days have passed. [It is] worth more than a photo album full of Santas!"

Off-Broadway Series South presents The SantaLand Diaries Tuesday-Friday, Dec. 17-20, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 21, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 22, at 2 and 7 p.m. in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, NC. $21-$38. 919/834-4000 or 919/231-4575 (group discounts). http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2002-2003/offbroadway.html#santaland [inactive 4/04] or http://www.santalanddiaries.com/ (deactivated 5/03).