Since 1992 Robb Mann has been on Wilmington’s theatre scene, acting and directing and doing tech work aplenty. While some may recognize him from his forays onstage in Shakespeare plays—such as last summer’s “Much Ado About Nothing” from Alchemical Theatre—over the holidays he is traversing into different territory. Still in the vein of Shakespeare, a bit of comedy and tragedy (the latter depending upon how you view capitalism) will make its way into his character, Crumpet, the disgruntled elf, who works at Macy’s during the holiday season.
Panache Theatrical Productions will continue in their third year of bringing the tradition to life: David Sedaris’ famed holiday essay, “The Santaland Diaries.” It ran at the former City Stage for more than a decade and will return to the Masonic Temple Building, now named North Front Theatre. Crumpet is a challenge for actors, as they must carry the sardonic wit of Sedaris’ writing on their own accord. It’s been played by beloved thespians who have been a part of the Wilmington theatre scene for years, from Cullen Moss to Steve Vernon, Jason Hatfield to Justin Smith.
“I first encountered the play here in Wilmington when [Emmy-award winner] Michael Granberry did the inaugural performance,” Mann tells. “This is the first time for me, so it’s a new experience.”
Mann is looking at the nuance of the source material for inspiration. First off, the hour-long monologue is based on Sedaris’ real-life experience working as Santa’s helper. It was adapted for the stage by Joe Montello (“Wicked,” “Assassins”) and follows Crumpet’s thoughts of working retail at one of the most well-known department stores in New York City during the busiest season of the year. Filled with crying children—and over-exuberant ones—families flock to Santaland so kids can sit on the jolly old man’s lap and relay what’s on their wish lists. From Crumpet’s point of view, the run-ins come in all forms, with angry parents, drunken holiday characters, and insane wannabe actors. They all challenge his belief on the true meaning of Christmas.
“There’s something in Crumpet that is just very human and relatable, which makes him enjoyable to watch,” Mann notes. “Crumpet is a bit mischievous, so there are times he does or says things to entertain himself, which are quite funny.”
Humor is apparent in the physical realm, first and foremost, as Crumpet hits the stage decking the halls. “My costume is green. I wear green velvet knickers, a forest green velvet smock, and a perky little hat decorated with spangles. This is my work uniform,” Sedaris writes.
“Of course Crumpet’s costume is ridiculous,” Mann confirms. “We’re going with the idea he was almost the last elf hired, so he’s having to patchwork his costume from leftover pieces.”
Directed by Panache cofounder
Anthony Lawson Holli Saperstein, “Santaland” will start like a TED-talk before rooting itself at Macy’s. The Not So Ready for Christmas Carolers, made up of Jamey Stone, Amy Carter and Roxann Hubbard, offer Mann a respite from the monologue; furthermore, they add to the humor. They sing traditional carols and off-the-wall ones, like “Santa Mambo.”
“And there are a couple of twists on classics that are tailored for the show, so there’s really a mix of everything,” Mann tells. “I’ve always felt the chorus has helped establish the mood of the show and promotes the holiday spirit throughout.”
The thread of the show is in the journey of Crumpet and the fundamental idea that the holidays have become an over-commercialized sham. While the elf’s jaded attitude definitely fuels his snark, Mann loves the evolution of the character by the end of the hour.
“He actually embraces the holiday spirit,” Mann tells. “I love the ending of the show, which is really sweet, and then takes a sharp left turn at the last possible moment.”
For a different take on the season that isn’t wrapped up in nutcrackers and bows, at least not in the way most are used to seeing from traditional productions like “The Nutcracker” or “A Christmas Carol,” “The Santaland Diaries” will open November 30 and run Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 3 p.m. through December 17.