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A Cranky Christmas Tradition:

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Santaland Diaries
City Stage • 21 N. Front Street
(910) 264-2602
11/26 – 28, 12/3 – 5, & 10 – 12, 8 p.m.; 9 p.m. on 11/26
Tickets: $8 – $12
www.citystagenc.com

theater

HO HO HOS: (left to right) Chiaki Ito, Heather Setzler and Katherine Vernon return to the ‘Santaland Diaries,’ as the popular Ho Ho Hos. Courtesy photo.

“I haven’t scared myself artistically in a long time,” Michael Brady says. Brady takes on the cynically captivating Crumpet in City Stage’s annual holiday tradition of presenting “Santaland Diaries.” Seemingly, he’s found the appropriate rope to climb in challenging both himself and the audience. Enacting a David Sedaris holiday monologue comes with its own set of rules regarding endurance and irreverence.

Perhaps the beauty of Sedaris comes from the interpretation of his reader, listener, or in this case, watcher. The writer gives us the story’s main elements: man in an elf suit works at Macy’s for the holidays, and is jaded by Christmas consumerism and its snot-nosed hellions, who sit on an old man’s lap during a holiday of over-blown proportions. We can take it how we please. After all, Sedaris connects in his world of comedic verbosity and readings. Thus, when giving the material to someone else to portray, things could easily go awry.

“The obvious answer [to fearing this performance] is trying to remember everything, I guess,” Brady explains of the hour-or-so-long monologue. Like his character, Crumpet, he digs for more angst. “Really, the most difficult thing is trusting the words themselves. There’s a sense of overcompensation—at least in my case—as I try to make sure that this will be a worthy night of theatre for folks. I’m most afraid of trying too hard. I am very much looking forward to working without a net, despite still being afraid of heights.”

Caroling breaks will also provide Brady a breather, something that has been adapted into the show thanks to three saucy ladies also known as the “Ho Ho Hos!” Not only do they provide a nice respite from heavy rhetoric, they bring spirited forays into even more misanthropy—something cavilers of the season will surely appreciate. Chiaki Ito, “Santaland Diaries” music director for five years and “Ho” for four, shares the stage with Katherine Vernon, who’s been a “Ho” for three, and Heather Setzler, another “Ho” for four.

“The Ho Ho Hos have maintained their disheveled, grungy, cynical style throughout the years,” Ito says. “The challenge is to make each experience different so that it’s fresh for us and also for the audience.”

Hosting the set in alleyways, a Macy’s break room and even Crumpet’s apartment in previous years, the scene becomes a surprise—and usually far from a Norman Rockwell painting. Likewise, the Hos add to it by breaking the angelic façades Christmas so brightly paints. “It’s a welcome diversion from all of the syrupy sweet holiday messages that inundate us at this time of year,” Ito reflects. “Audiences are not expecting such a cynical bunch to sing [a capella and] with such tight harmonies.”

It follows suit back to our main character, whose dream for employment turns into a nightmare—“and then he woke up,” Brady jokes. Everything any disgruntled holiday-goer has thought, wished to say or dreamt at some point or another, Crumpet says. “He does some things that are particularly not nice,” Brady explains. “But we must like watching him, at the very least, right? … Everyone knows that Christmas is over-commercialized and ‘isn’t what it used to be,’ but truly venting that risks tarnishing someone else’s holiday season. Crumpet is the average person’s release-valve for their annual holiday frustration.”

Though Brady doesn’t claim to master the role like the man himself, Mr. David Sedaris—or approach a one-man show like masters Eric Bogosian or Spaulding Gray—it’s a role he’s had his eye on for quite some time. If anything can be said, it’s that passion becomes him, as proven by his 20-year dedication to theatre, one that’s served him on our local scene since 1997.

“The first draw [to ‘Santaland Diaries’] was really the idea of seeing my buddy Michael Granberry take that whole stage by himself,” he explains. “After that initial exposure, I knew it was something I wanted to do.”

Brady isn’t sold on Crumpet being completely naughty, either—even if discovered through subtleties. Who knows? By the show’s completion, he may be a contender for Santa’s nice list. “If he is transformed at all, I’d like it to be because there was a little spark that got fanned into a flame, rather than depict an unrealistic 180-degree turnaround,” Brady explains.

A story of redemption? Maybe. A story of validation? Absolutely. While tinsel and lights hang throughout our town squares, and malls pack in shoppers to the hilt, some people may not be so inclined to see Christmas sparkle and glow. “I think the story is validating in a way that, yeah, we’re not alone in rolling our eyes when we see reprehensible behavior at Christmas,” Ito says.

Crumpet—the new Christmas hero. Sedaris knew what he was doing when he penned him. Don’t miss “Santaland Diaries,” opening Thanksgiving weekend, Friday the 26th, and running through December 14th, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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