The elf and the monologue

David Sedaris’ “SantaLand Diaries” at the Human Race

By Jacqui Theobald

Photo: Tim Lile in “The SantaLand Diaries,” now through Dec. 19 at the Loft Theatre; photo: Scott J. Kimmins

Many of us are right in the midst of the holiday season, where pressures mount, often unimaginably. Situations may put us on the edge of sliding right off Santa’s lap into hysteria, despair or disgust.
Imagine an actor who may be imagining himself playing a noble Shakespearian role who is, in fact, playing a writer who imagines himself winning a role in a soap opera who finds himself desperately seeking work as a Macy’s elf, imagining what he’d really like to say to crude parents, reluctant kids and his fellow elves.
Tim Lile undertakes David Sedaris’ famed clever monologue first heard on NPR’s “Morning Edition” in 1992. It hasn’t lost a bit of its punch, a remarkably sage look at us, the human race, in line with our children awaiting that brief moment with Santa and the opportunity to take a picture or capture little ones on video.
Steven Box, HRTC director of communications notes, “I know our audience appreciates smart humor.” The show is an extra for the regular season, and has some tickets still available through Dec. 19.
“The SantaLand Diaries” is David Sedaris’ memoir, and embodies his experiences and his take on commercialization of Christmas. There’s not a lot peace on earth happening with the selfish adults who demand what they want and wait with reluctance. There are a number of Santas, each with his own Santa house, and no child sees that there is more than one, creating a need for an elf to direct the crowds into various waiting lines.
All the other characters are created by Lile, who—as Sedaris—has chosen the elf-name of Crumpet. Hearing it on radio is different from experiencing the visuals of the stage adaptation.
Macy hires some 50 elves and trains them to function from black Friday to Christmas Eve in a variety of tasks: Entrance Elf, Water Cooler Elf, Bridge Elf, Train Elf, Maze Elf, Island Elf, Magic Window Elf, Emergency Exit Elf, Counter Elf, Magic Tree Elf, Pointer Elf, Santa Elf, Photo Elf, Usher Elf, Cash Register Elf, Runner Elf and Exit Elf. Most are tasked with the obvious. The Magic Star Elf repeats, with forced excitement and anticipation, “Step on the Magic Star and you can see Santa!” It gets boring and Crumpet, our hero, embellishes. The audience loves it.
Wisely, Macy’s rotates the assignments frequently. All elves are said to be dressed alike in green knickers and shirt over a yellow turtleneck with a darker green smock, and red stockings topped by red and white striped socks and large red upturned-toe elf shoes. A nice red cap with decorative trim and white fur is finished with spangles and a tassel. We see only Lile, in a subtle outfit designed by Christie Peitzmeier.
The script, written by Joe Mantello, is absolutely faithful to Sedaris’ original essay, and it contains no stage directions. That leaves direction wide open for Scott Stoney, who moves Lile all over the stage imaginatively and with an eye on brisk pacing. Tim Lile is an actor known for a limber physicality who takes that challenge and runs with it. Room remains for even more loose-limbed shenanigans, something elusively more.
Stoney delights in explaining how pleasurable it was to work with a regular member of the HRTC, who know each other well. Both are professionals; they understood goals with a minimum of conversation. It was synchronicity.
A one-man show involves a hard working tech crew and this one has provided superb support. As always, Stage Manager Kay Carver is on top of all details including prompter’s tasks and is a necessity in many instances. Set Designer Scott J. Kimmins with Head Carpenter Eric Moore has made a magic SantaLand out of simple elements. It functions usefully for open movement by Crumpet and has plenty of Christmas to be quite cheery.
Lighting Designer John Rensel has used moving color, animated but subtle to add to the whimsy and the slight madness as the stress increases. Effective though brief light changes support progress between elf stories.
Sound Designer Jay Brunner has provided sound patterns that serve a similar function. Everything fits so subtly that it’s hardly noticeable, but most essential.
Some performances will be signed by Miami Valley Interpreters. Imagine how their fingers fly.
Despite Sedaris’ disgust at the foibles of the self-centered Santas, he finds at least one who brings something positive and appropriate to the real magic of the season. That Santa has a way of making parents really see their children and express their love for them. They leave almost chagrinned at their previous inattention. Lile handles the sweeter, more serious material with respect and a certain dignity. At other times he engages the audience, practically making them a second character.
But what about that Shakespeare reference? Nothing like that appears in Sedaris’ work. But Lile, in a pre-opening interview said, “doing a one-man show is harrowing. I’d rather be doing Richard III.” With that he began to recite the Bard and carried on for five minutes or so with great skill. He’s an actor with a broad range from the classics to this wry seasonal comedy.

“SantaLand Diaries” runs through Dec. 19 with show times at 7 p.m. Dec. 15-18, and at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Dec. 19 at the Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St. in Dayton. For tickets or more information or to gift a 3-play subscription for 2016 or a Flex-Pass call 937.228.3630 or visit humanracetheatre.org.
Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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