Sedaris's "SantaLand Diaries" at Vineyard Playhouse
Photo by Ralph Stewart
It's a one-man, non-stop, hour-long theatrical marathon starring Island favorite Christopher Brophy, who animates every minute as he shows audiences at Vineyard Playhouse the funny, often acerbic truth about what it's like to be a Christmas elf in a Manhattan department store. Written in 1992 by David Sedaris (the 2001 recipient of the Thurber Prize for American Humor), "SantaLand Diaries" is a very funny autobiographical account of the collision between retail commerce and good will toward men; between reality bites and fantasy land.
"SantaLand Diaries" made its debut in 1992 on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Mr. Sedaris, a rather sardonic elf, was 38 when he joined Santa's crew at Macy's — a newcomer to New York with dreams of fame and fortune. (He took the job because it was better than being on the street dressed as a taco and he was rejected by UPS.)
The play is a faced-paced narrative of all the behind-the-scenes action from the rigors of elf training to the stresses of having to be apoplectically enthusiastic. Clearly Mr. Sedaris ("Naked," "Me Talk Pretty One Day," "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim," and his most recent "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary") drew the details from first-hand experience: the parents who dump disposable diapers in the displays and offer bribes to cut ahead in line, crying children, yelling adults, the push to sell photos with Santa, and one very frustrated elf who informs a child in mid-tantrum that Santa would steal all the household appliances.
As the play progresses, Crumpet the Elf explains that climbing up the candy cane ladder is not so easy. Just getting the job takes two interviews (he tries to give elf-like answers, claiming whittling is his hobby), two psychology tests, elf classes, a 40-page manual, motivational exercises, study groups, and a urine test.
The stage is empty except for a high-backed red velvet Santa's chair surrounded by gift boxes, but Mr. Brophy, a rubber-faced natural as Crumpet, sends out sparks of energy. In his green smock, fur-trimmed red hat, and candy cane stockings, he gains fierce momentum describing the characters he encounters in his various tasks, assuming the voices and attitudes of errant children, impatient camera-snapping parents, assorted Santas — among them the one who spits when he talks, the one who treats Santaland like a singles bar ("Santa may be married, but I'm not"), and Santa Jerome, who provides the children with short lectures on entomology.
An actor who on occasion has been known to chew the scenery, M. Brophy's performance in "SantaLand Diaries" is well-paced, a balance of both manic and reflective moments. He recounts the six-year-old asking Santa to stop product testing on animals, and describes how one Santa manages to convey the true spirit of Christmas.
Mr. Brophy, who starred in Vineyard Playhouse's 1998 production of the show, delivers it all with passionate conviction. His expressions, voice, and posture change according to the characters and the situations he recounts — such as pointing out that Phil Collins is in line and creating a mob scene, or telling people if they stand on the Magic Star they can see Cher. And then with much flourish and miming, he announces that Santa is an anagram for Satan: "Father Christmas or the Devil — so close yet so far." (This slightly subversive show is PG-13 holiday faire.)
Being an elf takes a toll. Besides the blisters, Crumpet laments, "I spend all day lying to people: You're Santa's favorite person; You look sooo pretty." And he admits, "It's made me immune to compliments."
Santaland is an entertaining tour from Oh My God Corner (named for what people say when they first see the length of the lines) to Vomit Corner (no need for explanation), and its delivery by Christopher Brophy is both impressive and fun to watch.
"SantaLand Diaries," Thursday, Friday, Dec. 16, 17, 7:30 pm; Sunday, Dec. 19, 4 pm. Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven. $15. 508-696-6300; vineyardplayhouse.org.