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A Reflective Crumpet:

Santaland Diaries
City Stage/Level 5
21 N Front St # 501
Tickets: $8 – $12: (910) 264-2602
12/10 – 12, 8 p.m.


A GENTLE ELF: Michael Brady plays Crumpet as a humble, quiet and reflective elf in City Stage’s traditional run of David Sedaris’ ‘Santaland Diaires.’ Courtesy photo.

The success of David Sederis’ work is grounded in the universal experiences he recounts. Though not everyone sitting in the audience at City Stage has lived the story of a North Carolina boy transplanted to New York City, facing the realization that he would not be instantly greeted as the star he knew he should be, everyone in the audience has had dreams fall short. Moreover, at some point they may have even worked a job that undermined the very basis of their dignity. Few, however, have debuted a career launching work on NPR as a result of it.

City Stage’s annual presentation of Sedaris’ “Santaland Diaries” allows a local actor an opportunity to take on a one-man show and present the famed holiday monologue as he sees fit. What’s most intriguing about it, though it’s the same text year-in, year-out, is how each actor presents different interpretations of it to the stage. Thus, audiences have an opportunity to see the true strength of the text.

Over the years Crumpet—the elf moniker Sedaris adopted in “Santaland”—has been a stand-up comedian, a stoner, incredibly gay, very angry, disappointed, five feet tall, seven feet tall, thin, obese and everything in between. This year’s Crumpet, Michael Brady, is one of my favorites. An evening with him really feels like catching up with an old friend: Sitting in a living room, somehow the topic of the most demeaning job we’ve ever had comes up. He tells the story about working as one of Santa’s elves in Macy’s Santaland, and how his trip through purgatory far surpassed anything he had done … at least, he hopes.

Memoirs tend to fall into two broad categories: “I have been deeply wronged by the world and here is my catalog of grievances,” or “I am a terrible person, this is what I did and I wish I had handled it better.” Sedaris’ work has depended largely on writing about his own failings as a person. Through his reflections—how he wished he had behaved better at his grandmother’s funeral (“Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out”) or realizing he should have been a more considerate brother (“Repeat After Me”)—we, his audience, recognize our own regrets and desires to be better people.

Brady plays Crumpet with just the right amount of haughtiness mixed with humility to make him real rather than a parody. In the reflective scenes, when the meaning of Christmas does shine through the materialism of the holiday, as presented by Macy’s, Brady brings a quiet gentleness that we all hope we have inside ourselves. This does not mean that he submerges his complete confusion at the ridiculous reality his evil overlords have constructed around him—no! His bafflement at the stupidity of management comes through loud and clear.

I loved Justin Smith as Crumpet last yea (really, how can we not laugh at a seven foot tall man dressed as an elf?) It made me even more curious to see his follow-up act. Though it is a funny evening, with a hilarious script, rather than playing for the comedic timing, Brady focuses more on the personal confusion and surprise he feels at finding himself in this predicament.
His foil, “The Ho Ho Ho’s,” are back again and played by Chiaki Ito, Heather Setzler and Katharine Vernon. The ladies manage to keep perfect pitch and sing some complicated carols in rounds while tormenting Crumpet. They are pure shtick and the audience can’t help but love them.

The 2010 “Santaland Diaries” felt seamless, a true credit to the technical staff who produced a beautiful set, fun costumes (particularly “The Ho’s”), and scene transitions that were as tantalizing as the script. If readers haven’t made the show a holiday tradition, then start now.

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