“The Santaland Diaries” — a four-year tradition of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre — offers a unique holiday twist, a far cry from the Rep’s most classic holiday tradition, “A Christmas Carol.” With a script filled with irony and adult comedy telling the backwards, not so glamorous behind-the-scenes tale of Christmas, alongside a talented two-member cast and a dazzling yet simplistic set, “The Santaland Diaries” is sure to capture audiences of college age and up.
Anyone who has experienced the “joy” of working retail during the holiday season or is familiar with the act of waiting hours in a line to see Santa Claus will find this show wildly relatable. “The Santaland Diaries” is the true story— written by David Sedaris and directed by Eric Rosen — of one man’s bitter tale of his teeth-grinding, eye-rolling experience working as Crumpet the Elf in Macy’s Santaland.
The “elf” ends up at Macy’s after a bout of unemployment and desperation to find a job. The show does have a slow start with the character onstage in everyday clothing, explaining how he ended up as an elf in Santaland. Once he steps foot onstage wearing the elf costume, it’s all irony and laughs for the rest of the production as he turns the mystical holiday on its head by revealing the truth behind the scenes of Christmas magic.
This year’s run of the show introduced Claybourne Elder as Crumpet the Elf, a talented actor who has done four other shows with the KC Rep. He has also portrayed numerous roles on Broadway and in regional theatre, and dabbled in acting roles in film and television.
Elder acted out an impressive portrayal of the disgruntled Santaland elf. He made a clear impression of an average Joe, no more kind or mean than the rest of us, who happened to be a grown man forced to work in striped tights and a jingle hat, herding energized children and their stressed out parents toward Santa Claus.
While the baseline of the show is basically a 90-minute monologue that almost resembles a stand-up comedy routine, Elder does an excellent job of giving the audience a picture to go along with the recount of the elf’s experiences working in Santaland. Hardly a minute goes by without someone being heard laughing in the audience.
Elder’s monologue is broken up as a hint of musical theatre is brought in by the comical and talented Shanna Jones. Jones is reprising her role for the fourth year in a row and has also been in four other productions with the KC Rep as well as numerous shows in New York, Chicago, and Regional theatre.
Jones plays an elf who interjects throughout Elder’s dialogue to add animation to the retelling of the Macy’s experience of the Santaland elf. Throughout the show, Jones sometimes teams with Elder or solos with traditional Christmas carols such as “White Christmas,” “Oh Christmas Tree” and “Blue Christmas,” that are given a new, almost satirical meaning from their placement in the plot of the show.
Elder and Jones together create an amusing, laughter-inducing production that is made even better through the magnificent creative set design. The set evolves with the production, starting out as a simple, giant Christmas gift set middle-stage. As the plot begins to thicken, so does the present, opening to reveal an absolutely breathtaking sight of Santaland.
Clint Ramos, Director of Scenic Design, outdid himself with the marvelous contents of the set inside of the Christmas gift. Santaland is brought to life when the sides of the gift unfold, unveiling a glittery Christmas village filled with green sparkly presents, sparkling white snow, a path made from bright red Christmas tree ornaments, and of course, Santa’s throne.
The genius of the plot of the ironic, not-so-fun side of the holidays, the chemistry between Elder and Jones, and the perfection of the set make “The Santaland Diaries” a must-see.
“The Santaland Diaries” is recommended for ages 16+, and runs through December 24, 2016 at the Copaken Stage in the Power and Light District. Tickets can be purchased at http://kcrep.org/show/the-santaland-diaries and students can get a discount on tickets.