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Review: The Santaland Diaries (Theater Wit)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Mitchell Fain - Santaland Diaries   
The Santaland Diaries 

Written by David Sedaris
Adapted by Joe Mantello  
Directed by Jeremy Wechsler 
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
thru Date  |  tickets: $24-$30   |  more info

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An elf for the 99%




TheaterOrProducer presents


The Santaland Diaries

Review by Lawrence Bommer

Debuting 11 years ago in a Roadworks Productions premiere, Joe Mantello’s adaptation of David Sedaris’ Yule-phobic 1992 screed is a kind of “Misery on 34th Street” that has perversely become a hilarious Christmas classic. Riffing on Nicolai Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman,” this careening 75-minute monolog depicts the breakdown of a hopeful writer as his 44-year-old soul shrinks to become a Macy’s holiday elf named Crumpet.

Dedicated to Crumpet’s own “woeful unemployment,” this year’s edition updates Sedaris’ true-life, sardonic expose of the lies that keep the season merry and the homophobia directed against the outcast reindeer with the red nose (“Rudolph, it gets better!”) with updates on the Kardashians and a wish that the LaSalle Street protesters would “occupy Santaland.”

As we discover the Magic Window, the Great Tree, and the Vomit Corner, Jeremy Wechsler’s escalating staging detonates Sedaris’ catalog of hyper customers, schizoid Santas, horny “helpers,” and children desperate to believe (despite the consumer mania that infects them early). We learn the creepy fact that almost 1/3 of Santa’s visitors are adults, wanting to return to their childhood a bit too literally. Then there are the entitlement-fueled customers who want a racially compatible Santa—on the spot. There’s also a too-brief bit about backstage romance involving an irresistible elf named Snowball, all of which seems a tad tamer this year.

Sly and effortlessly endearing, Mitchell Fain plays the audience like a mouth harp, mischievously relishing the delicious details and shock effects of Sedaris’ naughty confession. Not since John McGivern’s sassy stylist in “Shear Madness” has an actor so completely captivated his customers. The real Macy’s miracle is that there’s still some room for unforced sentiment, as Fain describes a Santa who actually cares about the kids.

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