Tired of “A Christmas Carol”? Seen one too many productions of the “The Nutcracker”? Had it up to here with “White Christmas”?
Oregon Contemporary Theatre has the remedy through December 11 in the form of “The Santaland Diaries,” a stage adaptation of David Sedaris’ wonderfully sardonic and perhaps fanciful take on working as a Christmas elf named Crumpet at Macy’s department store during the holidays in New York. Originally penned as an essay, the work established Sedaris as a major voice in American humor after he read it aloud on NPR’s Morning Edition in 1992. It was adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello in 1996.
Actor Colin Law, who performed the one-man (or should we say “one-elf”) show at OCT in 2010 and 2011 while studying theater at the University of Oregon — he now lives in the Midwest, having just finished an MFA at Illinois State University — carries this hour-long performance along with considerable comic energy, starting with the desperate New York job search that leads him to a classified ad for a job that involves dressing up as an elf and talking to children and their often overbearing parents.
Between Law’s physical animation — he pinballs around the Santaland set like a figure skater on speed — and Sedaris’s caustically funny writing, “Santaland” keeps moving and keeps the laughter flowing. A fine moment comes when Law belts out “Away in a Manger” in Billy Holiday style to vex a particularly irritating Santa.
That there aren’t any belly laughs in the show isn’t the fault of Law or of director Craig Willis. Sedaris’ essay relied for its success on dry humor and deadpan delivery from a detached observer. Adapting “The Santaland Diaries” into a one-man play required turning that observer into the character who’s being observed, losing much of the deadpan wit.
Never mind that. If you’ve never read the essay — or even if you have — it’s deadly funny material, and works as a great antidote to too much holiday sap. Even on its third run in town, the show is still packing people in, so get your tickets early at OCT