- Tom Ford in the Half Moon Theatre production of â€œThe Santaland Diariesâ€ by David Sedaris.
Literary characters from Ebenezer Scrooge to Charlie Brown have achieved immortality for their galloping ambivalence toward the Yuletide. A relatively new arrival to that pantheon—but poised to become a latter-day Christmas classic—is Crumpet, the disgruntled department store elf.
Actually, Crumpet is cranky humorist David Sedaris, dressed in an itchy rental costume of green velvet and leading kids to Santa at Macy’s. Before becoming a writer of rock-star proportions, Sedaris was a genuine ne’er-do-well. Staring down a stalled career as an actor, Sedaris reluctantly took the seasonal job. It was a blessing; his acerbic account of that week, entitled “The SantaLand Diaries,” aired on National Public Radio’s “This American Life” and jump-started Sedaris’s new career.
The SantaLand Diaries next appeared in Sedaris’s Barrel Fever, then in his Holidays on Ice, and finally as a one-man show, adapted for stage by wunderkind Joe Mantello (currently scaring the red states with a Broadway revival of the 70s gay bathhouse farce “The Ritz”). A production of “Diaries” by Half Moon Theatre will play venues in Poughkeepsie and Kingston this month.
Directed by Half Moon’s Artistic Director, Margo Whitcomb, “The SantaLand Diaries” features stage actor Tom Ford. A measure of Ford’s versatility? His turn as Crumpet follows quickly on a run in The Pittsburgh Public Theatre production of Shakespeare’s “A Comedy of Errors.”
“Tom’s sense of humor is wry, sardonic, extremely smart humor, and very playful,” Whitcomb said. “For a grown man to stand in front of an audience dressed as an elf, you have to have a big sense of play.” But perhaps the role of Santa’s stooge is a cakewalk for Ford; in a regional tour of “I Am My Own Wife,” the 2004 Pulitzer winner for drama, Ford played Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a pro-Nazi German transvestite.
Sedaris’s “The SantaLand Diaries” will be sweet vindication for any adult in therapy because mom and dad forced you years ago to sit on the lap of a fat, bearded man. Sedaris recounts, in ego-eroding detail, the cult-like process of becoming an elf and the merciless parents ordering their tykes to enjoy their time with St. Nick. Poughkeepsie-based artist Karl Volk, has created the scenic design for the garishly cheerful SantaLand at Macy’s as well as the dreary Manhattan coffee shop where Crumpet shares his surreal tale.
Half Moon, established in 2005 by five Hudson Valley friends in the theater community, stands apart from typical local fare; company members have Broadway and regional credits. Whitcomb, a three-decade veteran of the stage, began as an actor before directing at San Francisco’s acclaimed American Conservatory Theatre as well as New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre, where she guided Olympia Dukakis in “The Tempest.” Between productions, Half Moon members stage performances in local living rooms, echoing the Victorian custom of dramatic salons.
For those worried that too much vinegar will curdle their eggnog, Whitcomb insists that “The SantaLand Diaries” is ultimately tender. “‘SantaLand’ looks like it will be a hilarious diatribe on Christmas commercialism,” she said, but then “it takes us in very surprising directions.”
The moral of the story, kiddies? Scratch a grouchy elf and you’ll uncover a sugarplum fairy.
Half Moon Theater presents The SantaLand Diaries. December 1-2 at Cuneen-Hackett Arts Center, Poughkeepsie; December 6-9 and December 13-16 at Coach House Players, Kingston; December 20-23 at Poughkeepsie Day School. Tickets $10-25. (845) 235-9885; www.halfmoontheatre.org.