Theatre Review: ‘Santaland Diaries” at Horizon Theatre
By Manning Harris
Horizon Theatre’s “Santaland Diaries” may well become Atlanta’s “Fantasticks,” running forever (at least in the December holidays); and it would do so with my blessing. This is the 12th year that actor Harold M. Leaver dons his gay apparel as Crumpet, Macy’s iconic, sardonic, fun-loving elf. You probably know that Crumpet is one of author David Sedaris’ alter egos, having been an elf himself before making it big as one of the country’s top humorists, with an international fan base. The “Diaries” will run through Jan. 2; but order your tickets in advance, as shows tend to sell out, especially on the weekends.
I saw the show two or three years ago and decided it was time to check it out again to see if it was still sharp and fun (all for you, dear reader). It is. And be advised (if you’re a Santaland virgin) that this is a show for adults; Elf Crumpet minces no words as he comments on himself, his job, his co-workers, and especially the holiday-crazed grown-ups, grimly determined that their children will meet Santa and have a warm, glowing experience—damn it! Sedaris is a master of satire and a sly, often mordant observer of life. Yet he has a great sense of fun and laughs at himself more than anyone else.
The audience does not escape Crumpet’s keen gaze and in fact becomes part of the show. Usually, any kind of “audience participation” in theatre doesn’t work for me, but here it’s perfect (and much credit must go here to Mr. Leaver, who now has this character in his blood and bones). One moment he’ll be chatting with an elderly gentleman who’s convulsed with laughter, asking him how many times he’s seen the show. “Twenty!” I kid you not; I was there. The next moment Crumpet is flirting with a handsome young man in the audience; he feigns interest in the young man’s date, asking her what she does for a living. When she hesitates, Crumpet quickly smiles and assures her, “It’s okay; I don’t really give a s—,” and turns back to the young man. And in Mr. Leaver’s hands it’s all good-natured and very funny.
Crumpet is aided in his escapades by by two outstanding Sidekicks: Megan Hayes and Enoch King. Both of them are gifted comic actors, playing multiple roles, complete with lightning transformations. Julia Jones and Chris Hedrick complete the Ensemble.
“You are not a dancer. If you were a real dancer you wouldn’t be here. You’re an elf and you’re going to wear panties like an elf.” This is part of the preliminary group lecture to prospective elves at the New York Macy’s. I have no trouble in believing that stuff like this is actually said to the would-be actors and writers who need a part time job. With dialogue like this, how can the show miss?
It doesn’t, and you shouldn’t miss “The Santaland Diaries,” directed this year by Jeff Adler. It’s a shot of spice in the arm just when you’re about to OD on sugary holiday confections—theatrical or otherwise. The Horizon’s intimate theatre is perfect for this show—fine set by Isabel & Moriah Curly-Clay.