Triad Stage’s SantaLand Diaries offers holiday satire at its finest

by Keith Barber

Triad Stage’s SantaLand Diaries offers holiday satire at its finest

Charles M. Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, railed against the commercialization of Christmas in the TV animated holiday classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas. Schulz’s method of delivering his message came in the form of a sweet, heartwarming story about Charlie Brown’s search for the true meaning of Christmas. David Sedaris took a slightly different approach with his 1992 NPR radio essay, SantaLand Diaries. If A Charlie Brown Christmas is the G-rated version of holiday satire, SantaLand Diaries definitely merits an R.

Triad Stage’s production of SantaLand Diaries remains true to the spirit of the manner in which Sedaris created the work. Legend has it that Sedaris was discovered in a Chicago nightclub by radio host Ira Glass while sharing entries from his personal diary onstage. Jim Moscaster, who does a marvelous job playing David, the out-ofwork actor who dons the role of Crumpet the Macy’s department-store elf, engages the audience in the UpStage Cabaret venue of Triad Stage as if he is doing just what Sedaris did 20 years ago in Chicago. One gets the feeling of being at a holiday party hosted by Moscaster, who regales those in attendance with his humorous story of that Christmas years ago when he was an unemployed actor, down to his last 50 cents and answered a help-wanted ad in The New York Times.

Adapted by Joe Mantello and directed by Jim Wren, SantaLand Diaries has undergone a few significant changes from its 2008 incarnation. Gone are the gentle melodies and soft-as-melted-butter voice of pianist Miss Peppermint, AKA Jessica Mashburn. The musical cues now consist of punk rock versions of beloved Christmas carols. The stage design is more Spartan, and Mantello’s adaptation gives Moscaster a showcase for his vocal and dramatic talents.

David begins his holiday tale by talking about his weeklong “Elf Training” inside a windowless Macy’s classroom.

He is instructed that he can be an entrance elf, maze elf, water cooler elf, bridge elf, cash register elf, train elf, island elf, magic window elf or exit elf. David begins to think he might not be up for the role of Crumpet.

“I don’t know that I could look anyone in the eye and exclaim, ‘Oh my goodness! I think I see Santa!’ or ‘Can you close your eyes and make a very special Christmas wish?’ “Everything these elves say seems to have an exclamation point on the end of it,” David continues. “It makes one’s mouth hurt to speak with such forced merriment.”

In one hilarious sequence, retells the story of being asked by “Santa Santa” — the Macy’s Santa Claus who takes himself a bit too seriously — to help a child remember the lyrics of a Christmas carol. A resentful Crumpet sings the carol the way he imagines Billie Holiday would, defeating the purpose of understanding the words to the song.

Moscaster’s prodigious ability to mimic the voice and mannerisms of several dozen different characters makes him an excellent choice to play the role of the sardonic Crumpet.

In another funny bit, Moscaster affects Al Pacino playing Scarface when a mother asks Crumpet to tell her son what will happen if he finds himself on Santa’s “naughty” list. Moscaster is brilliant in his retelling of the saga of Snowball, the flirtatious male elf who finds himself being pursued by a number of gay elves and gay Santas.

As Christmas rapidly approaches, Crumpet’s self-esteem is nearing rock bottom. When he gives a sarcastic response to a woman’s question about the line to the ladies’ bathroom, she says, “I’m going to have you fired.” Crumpet has reached the point where he feels like leaning over and saying, “Yeah? Well, I’m going to have you killed.”

But just when it appears that commercialization, rude Christmas shoppers and insufferable Santas are going to destroy what little Christmas spirit Crumpet has, he experiences a moment of redemption when a mysterious Santa appears on Christmas Eve. Once again, Triad Stage has done a fantastic job with Sedaris’ much-beloved essay, and the audience is allowed to find the heart of season with Crumpet as its faithful guide.

wanna go?

SantaLand Diaries runs nightly at Triad Stage’s UpStage Cabaret through Dec. 19. Show times are 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tickets are $15-$20. For further info, call 336.272.0160

Go elf yourself. Jim Moscaster as Crumpet the Elf in David Sedars’ SantaLand Diaries at Triad Stage. (courtesy photo).