Laugh away the holiday havoc in Triad Stage’s The Santaland Diaries

by Lenise Willis

Host of “Dirty Jobs”Mike Rowe entertains us as he takes on some of the world’sfilthiest, most unthinkable jobs. And although being an elf in Macy’sSantaland doesn’t require a roll in the dirt, it certainly takesthe title of most humiliating job. Just like Rowe, David Sedarisallows us to peek into an entirely different “career,” whileletting us laugh at the narrow job market and all the shameful jobsthat we too may have taken in desperation.

Sedaris’ sarcastic,comedic and R-rated essay The Santaland Diaries tells the taleof out-of-work actor David. On his last dime and desperate for work,he replies to a classified ad for a Macy’s elf and assumes the roleof Crumpet. What ensues is a hilarious—and non-PC—reminiscing ofhis week-long “elf training,” run-ins with impatient parents andhis blunt, comedic observations about the commercial holiday season.

Triad Stage demonstratesSedaris’ sarcastic humor in every element of their production ofThe Santaland Diaries with a clever set design, brilliantlyembarrassing costuming and the acting of James Tunstall, who capturesthe flamboyance and devilish wit that is Crumpet.

At the beginning of theplay, which is adapted by Joe Mantello and directed by Jeff Stanley,the set resembles that of an unemployed bachelor’s pad, bare andslightly dirty with an array of crushed beer cans scattered on theend table and floor. A large chair sits at center stage as the mainprop.

But it’s after Davidaccepts his job as a Macy’s elf that scenic designer NicholasHussong’s true cleverness is observed. In a matter of seconds theformer hovel is transformed into Santa’s castle. Stacks of brownboxes open and out pop inflatable penguins, snowmen, nutcrackers anda giant Santa, right before our eyes.

From a door above thestage drops his costume — all but his shoes, of course. Tunstall isallowed to interact with the set and express his further hatred forthe job as he has to stand on the chair to reach for them, grumbling“I hate this place.” As if having to wear the ridiculous suitwasn’t enough, he has to go through difficult lengths to evenobtain it.

Tunstall then removes ablanket from the chair, revealing a red throne for Santa. Just as hehangs the “Santa Land” sign, the ceiling is lit with strings ofwhite Christmas lights, noting the official transformation.

Crumpet’s costume aloneis enough to make the audience sympathize with him as they guiltilylaugh at his expense. Costume designer Andrew Cutler puts together aperfect over-the-top “uniform,” which consists of a pair ofred-and-white striped tights, a pair of rust paisley bloomers, ayellow turtleneck, green elf jacket, pointy shoes and a stocking cap.“This is my work uniform,” Crumpet says with an insulted grin.

Tunstall’s performanceis magnificent as he uses varying voice pitches, facial expressionsand side-glares to express his attitude and mock a variety ofcharacters. He brings to life the characters that Crumpet discussesby giving his best impressions, including that of “the overallcutest elf” Snowball.

“I’d follow youto Santa’s house any day, Crumpet,” Crumpet repeats as hereminisces about the gay elf’s flirtations. “Snowball just leadselves on, elves and Santas,” Crumpet says, “Snowball is playing adangerous game.”

And no topic is too taboofor Crumpet’s griping, including the discussion of Santa’s race.

“Out of all the Santas,two are black and both are so light skinned that, with the beard andmakeup, you would be hard-pressed to determine their race…. Thelast time I was the Pointer Elf, a woman approached me and whispered,‘We would like a traditional Santa. I’m sure you know what I’mtalking about.’ I sent her to Jerome.”

Throughout the play,Crumpet keeps the audience laughing, often pointing members out andinteracting with them.

But besides poking fun athis lousy job and the obsession and commercialization of Christmas,Crumpet also learns a true valuable lesson from a mysterious Santa,who reminds him of the true meaning of Christmas.

Whether you’re lookingto laugh your way into the holiday spirit or merely need a break fromthe humdrum of a crappy job, The Santaland Diaries are sure toplease.

Wanna go?

The Santaland Diariesplays at Triad Stage’s UpStage Cabaret, 232S. Elm St., Greensboro. Now until Dec. 23.Tickets are $15-$20 for adults, $3 off season pass holders. It is notrecommended for young audiences. For tickets and more informationcall 336-272-0160 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting  336-272-0160end_of_the_skype_highlighting orvisit are sold out for both Dec. 15 shows and the 7:30 shows Dec.17 and 18.