The holidays may be over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t relive all the Christmas experiences for yourself with Santaland Diaries. As we all know, Christmas is about more than the magic and family, but also the lines, the hectic shopping rush, and the crowds, and no one knows this better than David Sedaris, who penned Santaland Diaries after experiencing for himself what it’s like inside the Christmas machine as a Macy’s holiday elf. Full of wit and sarcasm, it’s a hilarious, adult evening of theatre that might just bring you back to those joyous days of yore. Just be sure to leave your want of whimsy and magic at the door.
Santaland Diaries has become a Christmas staple for many Austinites, and for good reason. There are few pieces that capture the true spirit of holidays better than this monologue, which gives us a warts-and-all picture of Christmas in modern times, complete with aggrivated parents, spoiled kids, and that cynicism that can only be found around the holiday season. Martin Burke once again dons the tights and shoes to become Crumpet the Christmas elf, and he’s perfect in the role, bringing his own saucy brand of humor, along with a healthy does of edginess to keep things interesting. He joined by Meredith McCall, star of such hit plays as The Drowsy Chaperone, as well as the upcoming musical Next to Normal, as the various characters Crumpet meets along the way, as well as acting as a window into the world for the audience. The two take over every inch of the theatre, cramming the fun from wall to wall during this hour-long comedy.
The problem is, the titular Santaland Diaries only take up about one half of the play’s running time, which is detrimental to its success. For a good hour, the play consists of little but interconnected musical routines, of which several are only tangentially related to the holiday. There are a few monologue interludes, but they’re usually sandwiched by a series of off-color musical numbers or corny stand up pieces. Meredith McCall does her best to sell these numbers, but even her talent can’t convince the audience that the songs are more than filler before we get the meatier, more robust flavors of the Diaries themselves. Indeed, McCall herself seems little more than an also ran for most of the play, popping up in places where she’s mostly not needed and acting as a straight woman or sounding board for much of the run.
If you missed it before Christmas, there are still plenty of chances to catch these actors in action, as the show will be playing through January 8th. The piece takes a certain patience, as sometimes the first act can be corny and disjointed, but when the second act takes flight you’ll find the experience well worth the price of admission. Let the holiday spirit live on at least a few weeks longer with a visit to Santaland Diaries, and havc a good laugh while you’re doing it.
Santaland Diaries is playing at Zach Scott’s Whisenhunt Stage. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit Zach Scott Theatre’s website at zachtheatre.org.