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Dear ‘Diaries’


Eric Webb January 12th, 2011

David Sedaris’ stint as a department-store elf makes for a subversive, one-man play in the hilarious ‘Santaland Diaries.’


The Santaland Diaries
8 p.m. Wednesday Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker
www.cityrep.com
297-2264
$8-$30

Tonight, Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre (CityRep) brings back its hit production of “The Santaland Diaries,” adapted for the stage from best-selling author David Sedaris’ essay. The sly, subversive, one-man, one-act play chronicles in inglorious detail his real-life experience working as a Christmas elf named Crumpet in Macy’s Santaland during the busy holiday season in New York.

Presented in a number of short vignettes, “Santaland” is an indictment of the holidays. With razor-sharp wit and entertaining cynicism, Sedaris takes us along for his descent into an environment that, as described, would surely qualify as one of the nine circles of hell if the “Divine Comedy” were updated for a modern audience. Its intelligence and dark humor are welcome reprieves to the holiday homogeny so ubiquitous this time of year.

Shawn Churchman, a faculty member at the School of Musical Theatre at the University of Oklahoma, reprises the role that earned him acclaim in two previous “Santaland” productions. His characterization of Sedaris/Crumpet is spoton, mining the depths of the beautifully crafted language for comedy gold and capturing Sedaris’ spirit without resorting to mimicking his distinct speaking style.

His dry, conversational approach makes the show feel less rehearsed and more personal, like you’re at a gathering of friends rather than a spectator of a play, a feeling reinforced by the intimate nature of the 80-seat CitySpace theater.

Under the direction of CityRep artistic associate Michael Jones, the show is well-paced, serves the material well and runs smoothly. Surrounded on three sides by the audience, staging for a one-man show in CitySpace isn’t easy, but I think most of the audience gets a balanced view of the performance, save for perhaps those closest to the back of the stage.

The scene transitions are punctuated by some well-selected holiday songs that provide a delightful counterpoint to Sedaris’ wry observations, and John Fowler’s excellent lighting also plays into the transitions while providing some variety in the look for the mainly static set. The set design by Josh Cain has a bold, streamlined look that pops and is appropriately evocative of an upscale department store.

Crumpet’s costume, designed by the always impressive Jeffrey Meek, strikes a perfect balance between humiliating to wear and appealing to look at.

With a running time of around 70 minutes, the only complaint I could possibly level at the show is that feels a little short. As a one-act play, an intermission wouldn’t really be appropriate, but it would pad out the running time enough that even this one point of contention would be moot.

Rumor has it the show might return next year, which is good news for those that aren’t able to make it to tonight’s remaining performance. While it might be 12 months away, CityRep’s “The Santaland Diaries” is a gift that’s worth the wait.

 
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