For the unemployed – and, brothers and sisters, I know you have been there, at least once – Christmas is a sad, sad season. For those who have dreamed of a career in the creative arts, declaiming, say, Shakespeare in front of a thousand people or, like David Sedaris, writing for their favorite soap opera, and who find themselves in a Yuletide Hell of a Department Store, in a supporting role, in order to put bread on the table, it is incomparably worse.
Sedaris’ trip into the belly of the Christmas beast, in which he dons the garb of an elf in order to entertain the throngs of desperate parents and their offspring at Macy’s, and get them to buy product, is of necessity an exercise in snideness. It would not be funny otherwise. And, really, who could not laugh at the pinhead who asks whether there is an opportunity to play an elf all year long, the depressed Santa who stares at his boots and tells the kiddies about holistic medicine, or the mother who bullyrags her kid into asking Santa to take a stand against animal testing?
The interesting thing about the way that Joe Brack, performing the role of Sedaris and everyone else in Joe Mantello’s adaptation of Sedaris’ account, is that he doesn’t play it strictly for laughs. If you hear Sedaris read his story – as he does, on CD – you hear Sedaris, the successful and presumably wealthy humorist, looking back, and down, at his days spent placating fierce parents and their screaming kids in a setting of institutional madness. But Brack sounds like Sedaris as he must have been then – a frightened young man, defeated and depressed in New York City, who imagines a future for himself as a walking French Fry, handing out leaflets.
This has some unexpected side benefits. The wit of the show flows unabated – we see the side of Sedaris which is addicted to mischief, and his keen eye for the absurd and the outrageous – but we also get to experience the season’s sadness. And rage, when we see the crude, abusive, selfish and self-righteous parents, and get a snapshot of the way they are ruining their children’s lives. And, when the final Santa who works with Sedaris on Christmas Eve appears to be the real one, the possibility of hope.
Brack, a veteran actor who turned in a superb performance in Washington Shakespeare’s Peace last year, has been doing this show for several years. According to the program, Brack rethought his portrayal two years ago in order to bring “a fresh look to this wonderful text.” This is the result.
Good thinking, Joe.
The Santaland Diaries
By David Sedaris
Adapted for the stage by Joe Mantella
Directed by Matty Griffiths and Alexander Fernandez
Produced by City Artistic Partnerships and the Warehouse Theater
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
The Santaland Diaries continues at Warehouse Theater thru Dec 24th.
Maura Judkis . City Paper