It’s been 15 years since David Sedaris’ most iconic holiday character, Crumpet the disgruntled elf, made his way to Wilmington’s local stage for a live rendition of “Santaland Diaries.” Originally an essay written in the ‘90s, the story follows the hijinks of Sedaris as he worked as an elf in Macy’s Santaland during the holidays. Every December NPR runs the piece, read by Sedaris himself, and every December a local theatre company brings the one-man show to life. The past few years have seen Panache Theatrical Productions carry on the off-kilter tradition, well-known for Sedaris’ snarkstar humor and penetrative dismay for all things the jolly ho-ho season offers, and punctuated by three ne’er-do-well Not Ready for Christmas Carolers.
Putting on the candy-cane tights this year is Randy Davis as Crumpet. Davis has been watching the coveted elf role over the last 10 years between City Stage- and Panache-produced shows. This show’s sardonic bend on the holiday season is something many can relate to throughout all the hustle and bustle of buying presents, dealing with family, rushing to make sure decor is perfect and baking is complete. Or, as an elf in Santaland, it’s dealing with cranky customers and screaming children—not necessarily Crumpet’s dream, which was to make it as a star in New York.
“He doesn’t want to be there, but this is the best gig he could find to keep himself out of the cold, so brave it he must,” Davis tells.
The audience sees Crumpet is trapped in a personal hell, one Davis understands all too well. Davis has worked retail and knows firsthand what Crumpet experiences.
“I’ve had all the same exasperated, agitated, exhausted, homicidal thoughts,” Davis says. “I think most people have—whichever side of the counter they may be on—during this most festive and joyous time of year.”
encore interviewed Davis and director Jamey Stone, who also has played the role of Crumpet two years for Panache.
encore (e): Jamey, how is it moving from on stage as Crumpet to behind the scenes as director?
Jamey Stone (JS): For me, it’s a new vantage point on an old show. As we enter year five of the Panache-produced “Santaland Diaries,” my experiences with this show have changed from year to year. Over the last five years, I’ve variously served as singing elf, music director, Crumpet, emergency Crumpet (long story) [Stone had to fill in at the last minute two years ago after Rob Mann fell ill], and now director. The familiarity with the script keeps me from having to start off from square one. I now have more than a passing familiarity with not only the script’s “ebb and flow,” but even more importantly, its occasional mine field.
I also get to enjoy what Randy brings to the production. He’s a brilliant actor, he makes me laugh and, through his delivery and mannerisms, continues to amaze me by bringing things to the show I’d never heard before.
e: What’s your fave line, Randy, and what are you learning from Crumpet you didn’t fully realize by just watching someone else play him?
Randy Davis (RD): “Several of the bosses led us in motivational cheers, a concept that stuns me to the core.”
I think the biggest mental shift I had to make was not reciting a diary I had written before, but writing a diary I was living currently. I’ve seen Sedaris speak twice now, and he spoke of his past. So that’s how I heard it. It’s much more dynamic to live it than recount it.
e: What attracts you to the script, Jamey? Why do you think Wilmington has embraced it as a holiday tradition?
JS: The script is so wonderfully curmudgeonly and occasionally dark. Its acerbic take on such a beloved holiday is like the joke you want to laugh at but aren’t allowed to. It’s just so boldly “wrong” on so many levels, but gets away with it by being brilliantly written and hilariously funny.
e: Any new creative liberties being taken with the production?
JS: Well, if you’re a purist, I suppose just adding singers is a creative liberty. It’s certainly not a new idea, not even new to Wilmington, but every production does something to try to define it as its own. Our goal with the singers was to add a feeling of other “Santa’s Elves,” working the same horrible job as Crumpet, trying to make the best of the situation by being cheery, supportive, and most importantly, breaking up the 1-hour monologue with some entertainment.
e: Tell us about your Not Ready for Christmas Carolers—new songs?
JS: We are thrilled to have Grace Carlyle Berry and Dianne March joining us for the first time and, returning from last year, Kaleb Bradley. Their voices are great and their vocal blend is amazing. The added bonus is they’re all wonderful characters on stage.
Although we’ve made slight alterations to the arrangements and/or songs from year to year, we’ve managed to keep songs and gags people have come to recognize (and expect!) as elements of the Panache shows.