David Sedaris' hilarious Santaland Diaries is being produced twice in Madison this season. Earlier this month, Laboratory Theatre ran a kid-friendly version of Sedaris' account of a gig as a Macy's elf. Now, for two nights only, Laboratory Theatre is collaborating with the Bricks Theatre to bring the uncut version of Santaland to a bar near you.
As one might suspect, Santaland uncensored is way better. I mean, what's Christmas without cursing, bloody knickers, and aroused elves?
As David, aka Crumpet the Elf, Peter Hunt, who also starred in Laboratory's staging, is ideal for the role. His face molds like play dough into all shapes elfin, and his small frame fills the stage with the energy of an elf twice his size. At Sunday night's performance at the Frequency, Hunt connected well with the audience, playing certain lines to the lucky folks seated near the stage. His performance gained strength with every laugh.
The challenge in this one-man show is to bring a new voice to Santaland while meeting audience expectations. David Sedaris fans want to hear David Sedaris, not an imitation of David Sedaris. So, Hunt and Bricks producing director George Gonzalez made a wise decision to give Crumpet a new voice. The result is more blatantly sarcastic than Sedaris' trademark dry, understated humor, but it works. (No one, however, can impersonate Billie Holiday like David Sedaris, though Hunt's impression was surprisingly respectable.)
One of Hunt's strengths as an actor is his physicality. As Crumpet the Elf, he's crisp, sure and slightly psychotic. In the hour and half he's alone on stage, he's never boring to watch.
Even more amazing is the forward motion he brings to the character. Bitterly sarcastic, reluctant David really becomes Crumpet the Elf as the show progresses. (Crumpet, fed up with the chaos of Macy's Santaland, eventually renames himself Blisters.)
Despite children peeing into the faux snow banks and Santa Jerome's lectures about entomology, there is, at the end of the season, still some Christmas spirit left in Blisters' green-velvet-covered heart. Blisters is even a bit reluctant to hang up his pointy hat on his final day on the job.
After three weeks' worth of the family-friendly version of Santaland, Hunt had a heck of a lot of new lines to please his new, beer-drinking audience. Near the end of Sunday's show, he messed up a joke. Without missing a beat, still half in character, Hunt exclaimed brightly, "I fucked that joke up. I've got a lot of shit to memorize." The scene fell apart, but the audience loved it.
The audience loved the entire show, for that matter. Santaland Diaries is a perfect break from the haze of the holidays. For at least an hour and a half, you'll forget the stress of last-minute shopping and work holiday parties.