David Sedaris’ acerbic observations in “The SantaLand Diaries” may not be everyone’s idea of Christmas spirit, but that’s actually the point. “Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine,” a man once said. And what better way to keep Christmas than to be working on the inside of the biggest holiday display of them all, Macy’s SantaLand?
In the raucous new production of “The SantaLand Diaries” at Capital Stage, Aaron Wilton’s mischievous Crumpet (Sedaris’ elf name) makes sure we appreciate all the sentiments of peace and joy making the rounds by undercutting them with his comic mocking of any holiday excess.
Sedaris first read a version of “The SantaLand Diaries” on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” on Dec. 23, 1992. The wry, incisive observational humor struck a major chord throughout America as the adoring audience response launched the writer’s now expansive career as a regular NPR contributor and writer of trenchant dispatches from American life. Theater director Joe Mantello adapted the expanded essay into a one-person, tour-de-force theater piece.
The story is based on excerpts from Sedaris’ diaries when he working as an elf at Macy’s department store in New York City during Christmas. Though it has been criticized for not being entirely factual, the piece is thoroughly entertaining. As much fun as Sedaris pokes at holiday traditions and the people around him, he consistently sticks it to himself. “I am a 33-year-old man applying for a job as an elf,” he says early on. “I wear green velvet knickers, a forest-green velvet smock, and a perky little hat decorated with spangles. This is my work uniform.”
Wilton’s easy, self-deprecating delivery and twinkling energetic physicality keeps the production lively as he moves through Sedaris’ sharply observed episodes of Elfdom. Wilton had a solid run with Capital Stage recently as two different, prickly characters in the dark ensemble comedy “Clybourne Park.” Here, he has the stage all to himself, though he and director Janis Stevens smartly involve the audience through out.
The story begins with Sedaris arriving in New York with no prospects, little money, and an obsession with the soap opera “One Life To Live.” With $20 left, he comes across the want-ad for a Macy’s SantaLand elf and applies for the job on a dare from his roommate.
Sedaris does more than needle some sacred Christmas tropes; he gouges them as he dissects the sensitivity that Santas need in hosting special-needs children, explains the careful choosing elf names (“Frosty” and “Puff” are preferred) and lays out the Elfin Guide for Behavior while on break inside Macy’s.
Crumpet also riffs on the different styles of Santas and the horrifying behavior of parents and their kids as they experience the marathonlike journey through the constructed labyrinth that eventually brings them to Santa’s house, which is featured in an applause-inspiring set designed by Olivia McGiff.
It’s not that Sedaris/Crumpet doesn’t take things seriously; he just doesn’t take them too seriously as he maintains his own sensibilities of what is and isn’t appropriate behavior. Finally, the story has unexpected poignancy and heart while staying true its own particular, irreverent holiday spirit.
THE SANTALAND DIARIES
* * * 1/2
What: Aaron Wilton stars as Crumpet, the dissatisfied Elf in Macy’s SantaLand display, in David Sedaris’ satiric sendup of all that is sacred about the holiday season.
Where: Capital Stage Theatre, 2215 J St., Sacramento
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through Dec. 29.
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission.
Information: (916) 995-5464, www.capstage.org/