Arts & Theater

Theater review: Irreverent fun at ‘Santaland’ at Sacramento’s Capital Stage

Aaron Wilton plays Crumpet the Elf in the Capital Stage production of “The Santaland Diaries.”
Aaron Wilton plays Crumpet the Elf in the Capital Stage production of “The Santaland Diaries.”

You may have heard lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel in the movie “Spinal Tap” famously explain his special amplifier. “If we need that extra push over the cliff, we put it to 11,” Tufnel says.

The repercussions inherent in his metaphor are lost on Tufnel, but going to 11 can, indeed, push you over the cliff. Besides once you’re on full blast, where do you go from there?

In the new production of “The Santaland Diaries” at Capital Stage, Aaron Wilton as Crumpet the Elf and director Peter Mohrmann have taken it to 11. They really needn’t have.

Though they don’t go over the cliff, they reach the edge. The one-man satire of the Macy’s Christmas experience feels scaled for a theater three or four times as large as the 125-seat space Wilton and Mohrmann are working with. They make sure it reads in the back row.

The play by Joe Mantello adapted from stories by humorist David Sedaris trades on wry sarcasm and droll observation. It doesn’t blow you away as much as continuously needle you with ironies and absurdities.

Although the story originally aired as a memoir on PBS’ “Morning Edition” in 1992 read by Sedaris, it is now considered a work of fiction. The wildly positive reception constituted Sedaris’ breakthrough into the public consciousness, and he subsequently expanded the story into a longer piece in 1996 for NPR’s “This American Life.” Actor-director Mantello adapted that longer version into a popular and widely staged theater piece.

The irreverent material is clever and entertaining for those who feel the tension of straight-jacketed tradition and strictly regulated fun. Wilton who’s shown a versatile range at Capital Stage in strong productions – “Clybourne Park” and “Enron” – played Crumpet in last year’s Capital Stage production. Engaging, whimsical and expressive, Wilton easily leads the audience through the Macy’s maze to the ultimate moment – a visit with Santa. And a photo souvenir.

The story essentially tells of Sedaris’ introduction to New York City and the emergency taking of the Christmastime job with Macy’s when he has run out of money. The elf interviews and training are ripe for mocking, as are the subsequent work on the line of customers waiting to see Santa. Since Sedaris doesn’t take too seriously what the rest are deeply committed to, he has a great time sending it all up.

The production elements are all first-rate, particularly Mari Carson’s clever costume and Jonathan Williams’ elaborate set design.

At one point Crumpet engages in some air-guitar histrionics set to Queen’s ultimate stadium rock anthem, “We Will Rock You.” That one you take to 11.

Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120.

THE SANTALAND DIARIES

What: Aaron Wilton returns as Crumpet, the cynical, dissatisfied Elf in Macy’s Santaland display. Peter Mohrmann directs David Sedaris’ biting sendup of a nearly sacred holiday tradition.

Where: Capital Stage Company, 2215 J St., Sacramento

When: Continues through Dec. 27; 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Also 7 p.m. Dec. 22 and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 23-24.

Tickets: $18-$38

Time: 80 minutes with no intermission

Information: (916) 995-5464, http://capstage.org/

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