Human Race Theatre presents ‘The Santaland Diaries’

By Tim Smith

Photo: Tim Lile as Crumpet the Elf in Human Race Theatre’s production of ‘The Santaland Diaries,’ running Dec. 8-17

Anyone, who has ever stood in line with kids to sit on Santa’s lap in a shopping mall, can relate to the frustrations. The crowds, the impatience of little ones waiting their turns, and the outright grumpiness of other parents are part of the seasonal ritual known as Christmas. But what about the elf’s point of view? That perspective is perfectly captured in the Human Race Theatre’s production of “The Santaland Diaries.”

“The Santaland Diaries” is based on an essay by David Sedaris. It is a humorous account of a Christmas season he spent working as an elf in Santaland at Macy’s department store. Sedaris first read the essay on NPR’s “Morning Edition” in 1992, then later published it in the collections, Barrel Fever and Holidays in Ice. It was adapted as a one-man, one-act stage play by Joe Mantello in 1996, and originally starred actor Timothy Olyphant. Since then, it has become a staple of regional, college, and high school theatre.

The Human Race production stars Tim Lile as Crumpet the Elf. Lile is a resident artist with Human Race Theatre and holds a master of fine arts degree in acting from Ohio University. He has appeared in numerous local and regional productions, including “Play It by Heart,” “The Odd Couple,” “Twelfth Night,” and “Lend Me a Tenor.” He also directed “Lombardi,” “Rounding Third,” and co-directed the home-run hit “Take Me Out.” He embraced the opportunity to play the sassy elf for a second season.

“As an actor, it’s always a challenge to revisit the material and think of ways you can do it better,” he says. “When a show closes, you’re always finding things you’d like to improve on. Already on opening night, I’m much more relaxed than I was during the entire run of the play last year.”

Lile embellished the script by breaking through the fourth wall, at times addressing the audience directly and involving audience members in the production.

“Involving the audience is always tricky,” he says, “because you don’t know what to expect. It can go up or down.”

The show played to sold-out crowds in 2015 and was added to this year’s schedule as a non-subscription event. Chad Wyckoff, Human Race Theatre’s community and audience engagement manager, says it was an easy decision to bring the show back for an encore.

“We chose to do ‘The Santaland Diaries’ this year because we sold out eight of 10 performances last year,” he says. “The demand was so high that we decided to bring it back this year. Audiences raved about the show, which is why it sold out so quickly last year. It was the hot ticket of the holiday season.”

“Tim Lile originated the role for the Human Race Theatre,” Wyckoff continues. “He is… a natural comedic actor. He fit the part perfectly.”

Wyckoff points out that putting on a one-actor show has its share of challenges:

“The rehearsal period for this production is half of what our normal three-week rehearsal period is. This year, Tim Lile will only have one week to rehearse. That is our biggest challenge. He also has to memorize a 60-minute script with no stage directions or guide to help him with his lines. This is a one-man show, so that is a lot of dialogue.”

Lile is delightful as Crumpet, the exasperated but cynical elf. His timing and delivery recall the bombast and pathos of Jackie Gleason, with a sprinkling of Rodney Dangerfield’s “I don’t get no respect!” Beneath the somewhat grumpy exterior, though, he manages to project an understanding and appreciation for the season while bringing to life a zany cast of characters. His ruminations on being selected to play one of Santa’s helpers and attending Elf School will have you rolling.

“The Santaland Diaries” is directed by Scott Stoney, a veteran stage director and actor. Some of the other backstage duties are handled by costume designer Christine Peitzmeier, lighting designer John Rensel, sound designer Jay Brunner, and production stage manager Lexi Miller. All are longtime members of the Human Race Theatre organization. Sign interpreters for the hearing impaired are provided by Miami Valley Interpreters, LLC.

This play captures all of the nuances of the holiday season. The set, designed by Scott J. Kimmins, perfectly replicates thousands of department store Santalands. Sedaris’ observations on the human suffering, known as Christmas shopping, are on target and will have you nodding in agreement while laughing and eliciting an I’ve-been-there reaction. A word of caution before making this a family outing—the play does contain some adult language and humor.

For a perfect antidote to the seasonal hustle and bustle, give yourself the gift of “The Santaland Diaries.” You’ll laugh your candy canes off.

The Human Race Theatre presents ‘The Santaland Diaries’ through Saturday, Dec. 17 at The Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St. in downtown Dayton. Tickets are $24, $18 for HRT subscribers. For tickets or more information, please visit HumanRaceTheatre.org or call 937.228.3630.

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Tim Smith
Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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