Saturday, December 10, 2011

Santaland Diaries


Author and entertainer David Sedaris has a knack of finding what’s funny and ironic about life. He’s at his best when he takes on the mundane and less dramatic incidents of existence.

Christmas is one of those times that brings out the best and the worst in people. This is very evident in THE SANTLAND DIARIES, a rendition of which is now on stage at the 14th Street Theatre in PlayhouseSquare, which is cosponsoring the production with Cleveland Public Theatre.

The playlet concerns Sedaris, experiencing life as a struggling writer in New York, who seeks out and secures a job as an elf at Macy’s flagship department store. He’s 33-years old and takes on the role of Crumpet, dressed in red and white stripped stockings, green tights, tasseled cap, and an oh so gay holiday tunic.

The show illuminates Sedaris’s dark comic observations on human life including the threats of parents when their kids aren’t thrilled about sitting on Santa’s lap, the drunk Santas, the kids who urinate in the fake snow, the fellow elf who can’t figure out why she can’t have the job on an all year basis, and what happens when the “real” Santa appears.

There are various ways of interpreting the role of Crumpet. Kevin Joseph Kelly, this season’s elf, with the help of director Elizabeth Wood, decides sarcasm is the right route.

Now, it has to be understood that KJK is at his best when he is cross-dressing. He’s made a career of putting his size 14 feet into high heels, adding some padding to a bra, and stuffing his ample body into a dress. He’s been Albin, the drag queen in LA CAGES AUX FOLLES. He’s portrayed Edna, an over-sized woman played by a man, in HAIRSPRAY. And he makes an appearance in a spangling dress in THE LOUSH SISTERS, the second act of this SANTALAND DIARIES. He’s at his best in drag. Hmm, wonder what would have happened if he and Wood had decided to take a different approach and let Kelly do his drag thing? That’s something to ponder for future presentations.

But the duo stuck to the traditional, so we have Kelly, as a sarcastic Crumpet, a Paul Lynde with too tight tighty-whities. That approach doesn’t get all the laughs that are inherent in the script. It’s not that Kelly is bad, he’s quite okay. It’s just that the play tends to work better with a more adorable or curmudgeonly approach. As the lady sharing the table with me said, “I thought this was going to be cute and funny.”

The second act is Liz Conway and Sheffia Randall Dooley as the Loush sisters. The mixed race “sisters” put out full effort, do a nice job of singing a blend of various holiday and non-Yuletide songs, get some laughs, and do some cute shticks. The highlight was Kelly’s appearance as the sisters’ sequins dressed full-figured mama and his version of Rose’s Turn from GYPSY.

The act is one of those segments of entertainment that when it ends, is quickly forgotten. That’s not a slam, just a comment on what was…okay, but no brass ring.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: THE SANTA CLAUS DIARIES is an evening of looking at life through the eyes of life commentator David Sedaris, which gets an acceptable presentation.