Hunt carries the show with energy and impeccable comedic timing.
"I'm not a good person," says David the Elf. "I have never even been mistaken for a good person." The Bricks Theatre production of The Santaland Diaries is a one-elf show based on the David Sedaris story of the same name. This is not a Christmas cup of cocoa. It is, as the show's tagline has it, "a Christmas martini...shaken and dirty." The show opened Thursday at the Barrymore Theatre and runs through Dec. 12.
David is not a real elf. He's a starving writer in New York, desperate for a gig hobnobbing with the soap stars he idolizes. Instead, he's hired as an elf named Crumpet in Macy's Santaland. Peter Hunt (voted one of Madison's favorite actors in the 2009-2010 Isthmus Annual Manual) carries the show with energy and impeccable comedic timing as David, bringing down the house with a hilariously un-sexy reverse striptease as he dons his elfin costume.
"My costume," he says, with the perfect degree of irony, "is green."
The Barrymore is more known for rock shows than theater, and the crowd was rowdy on opening night. Audience members shouted at the stage (the comments were friendly), and I was surprised how many people got up for drinks in the middle of the show. As a result, the show felt less like a stuffy piece of theater and more like a friend telling a story at a cocktail party.
Joe Mantello's adaptation is true to the original piece by Sedaris, with some added material and some reordering of the story. The new jokes fit with Sedaris's sardonic, irreverent tone. Overall, the adaptation serves the stage well, though many punch lines worked better in writing than in performance. Often the line that got the biggest laugh came too early in a story, leaving the last line to land with an anticlimactic thud. Hunt is an able, responsive performer, so I suspect he may adapt his delivery for future performances.
It's hard to see where George Gonzalez's direction ends and Hunt's choices begin, but the overall effect is a success. Jenni Schwaner-Ladd's elf costume is charming, and the show's minimalist set works well for the material. The sound cues, as is often the case with local theater, are distractingly clunky, but they don't come in too often.
The show has two opening acts: a 10-minute play called "The Student" by Matt Hoverman and the song "Surabaya Santa," performed by Laura Spring. Spring was ill for Thursday's performance, so her song was canceled, but "The Student" was funny and heartwarming.
Santaland Diaries isn't your typical holiday fare, but in its chilly irreverence are a lot of laughs and surprising warmth.