It Ain't Easy Being an Elf
By Geary Danihy
So you come to New York with stars in your eyes and hopes of landing a role in one of your beloved soap operas. Oh, silly you! Out of work, you read an ad that announces that Macy’s -- yes, the biggest store in the world -- is hiring -- hiring elves for its Santaland. You say, “What hell!” and go for an interview and, wonder of wonders, you land the job. Be careful what you wish for.
Such is the premise of The Santaland Diaries, MTC’s Christmas offering running through December 20 at its new home in Norwalk. Directed by Kevin Connors, this slight, sarcastic take on the holidays appeals to the Scrooge in all of us. If you gag at the thought of eggnog, disdain electronic reindeer and whirling Santas on your front lawn, and wish that every copy of “Here Comes Santa Claus,” sung by Gene Autry, would magically disappear, then this is the show for you.
Santaland, based on a David Sedaris essay and adapted by Joe Mantello, is a one-man, single-set show that is basically an extended monologue, and as such, rests on the skills of the actor portraying Crumpet, the elf-name given to the hapless out-of-work wannabe actor. As Crumpet, Matt Densky fills the turned-up elf shoes admirably, although one might ask him to tone down the fey aspects of elfishness a bit -- there’s just one too many strokes of the eyebrow.
However, the story Crumpet tells is entertaining, for he is exposed to all the mania and hype that the holidays can offer as he shuttles visitors into the magical world of Santaland, visitors who include youngsters terrified of Santa, visitors who wish to capture the moment on film as if it is a Cecil B. DeMille production, visitors (from New Jersey) who tell Santa they “Want a broad with big tits” for Christmas (Haw! Haw! Haw!), visitors who pee on Santa’s lap or toss soiled diapers into the decorations, and foreign visitors who are essentially clueless.
Then there are the Santas, a mixed lot of lost souls who handle the visitors with various degrees of kind attention or disdain.
Then there are Crumpet’s fellow elves, a varied lot of folks who would rather be anywhere else than in Macy’s dressed as elves (“I’m really an actress!”) and who, in devious and not so devious ways, deal with the long lines of Christmas shoppers who wish to whisper their consumer wishes into Santa’s ear.
Densky romps about the candy-cane set, designed by Carl Tallent, as he tells his tale of holiday woe, striking poses and evoking the various matrons, children and fathers who have come to worship at Santa’s boots. He is arch, snarky and, if nothing else, the essence of the put-upon, all-suffering Santa’s helper.
The only false note in the evening is its conclusion, for Sedaris -- and Mantello -- can’t help but succumb to the candy-cane-Miracle-on-34th-Street-Christmas-in-Connecticut-Grinch-Rudolph-Scrooge-God-Bless-Us-All syndrome, for on the “last shopping day” Crumpet gets to work with a Santa who goes off script and asks questions of the visitors that evoke the “true spirit of Christmas.” It’s a maudlin touch that, I guess, is meant to bring a tear to the eye, but for those of us who would have written a different editorial to little Virginia when she asked if there really was a Santa Claus, it only confirms that you can’t keep cant out of Christmas.
God rest ye merry gentlemen, for the season will pass and all that will be left will be the credit card bills, a lot of torn wrapping paper and dead pine trees lining the curb. Oh come all ye faithful to the malls!
The Santaland Diaries runs through Dec. 20. For further information or ticket reservations call the box office at: 203.454.3883 or visit: www.musictheatreofct.com.