Springfield Contemporary Theatre Revives "Santaland Diaries"

Dec 8, 2017

Springfield Contemporary Theatre brings David Sedaris's "Santaland Diaries" back to SCT Center Stage the next two weekends.
Credit (Poster design courtesy Springfield Contemporary Theatre)

Springfield Contemporary Theatre will present an encore run of David Sedaris’s hilariously irreverent holiday show The Santaland Diaries December 8 thru 17 at SCT Center Stage in Wilhoit Plaza, corner of Robberson and Pershing. Sedaris’ side-splitting send-up of Christmas focuses on his brief, misguided career as a Santa's elf at Macy’s in New York. Besieged by bratty kids with overzealous parents and donning a humiliating costume, he finds that his cynical self and his elfin alter ego, “Crumpet,” are not exactly compatible.

Equity actor Nathan Shelton plays David Sedaris in this production directed by Rick Dines.  The stage version is based on an essay Sedaris read on NPR’s Morning Edition back in 1992.  In 1996 Joe Mantello adapted Sedaris’s essay into a stage play.  While highly fictionalized to get the maximum humor out of the story, it is definitely autobiographical.  “It is David,” says Rick Dines.  Sedaris refers in the text not only to himself directly, but also mentions his sister, comic actress Amy Sedaris.

“This is our (SCT’s) second go-round with the show,” says Nathan Shelton, “and there have been a lot of new and wonderful things that have been happening this time, going back to explore the production again. We had such a great run last year with the show, wonderful audiences, and we were like, ‘Let’s do it again.’”  The play isn’t Sedaris’s essays word-for-word, as Joe Mantello “moved things around a little bit, tweaked a few things here or there.  It’s a one-man show, so it needs to be a little bit more lively than Sedaris, as he reads it. It flows quite well.  It’s a very quick-paced show, it’s very funny.”  Shelton admits that he’s had trouble keeping a straight face during rehearsals—but don’t expect him to crack himself up during performances. “It’s just so funny, he’s such a brilliant writer. It’s great, because as he talks about all these ‘interesting’ people that he encounters as he is working as an elf in Macy’s Santaland, he becomes those people.  As a comedic actor, it’s so much fun to be able to just play.”  Adds Rick Dines, “I’ve seen Nathan do this material way too many times, and I still laugh.”

Did David Sedaris basically loathe the whole experience of playing an elf at Macy’s? “You get the feeling that he loathed most of it,” says Dines, but viewers will also get the feeling that Sedaris, looking at his misadventures from a distance, perhaps doesn’t feel it was all as awful as it once seemed. “It does kind of have that Christmas Carol redemption at the end.”

Nathan Shelton can draw on years of working in retail himself in fleshing out his portrayal. “I’m sure we’ve all been there.  You do come to loathe much of it—I mean, people in droves coming at you.  I worked at Starbucks for years and years and years, and it was like hundreds of people every coming in every morning... but they don’t just want their ‘coffee’. They want ‘two and-a-half pumps, one half-packet of Splenda.’  And those are the kinds of things (Sedaris) talks about, and I really identify with this character.  But during the holidays there’s a lot of drama, a lot of stress, quick decision-making... and then reflection.  And that, I think, is where (Sedaris) excels, is at reflection. He gets to go home every night and think about all the things that happened that day, and process them.

“The show isn’t all ‘grumpy-grumpy’—it could be, with a lesser writer,” says Shelton, though the show certainly contains plenty of David Sedaris’s self-admitted cynicism. “And it has that, and that’s what is so funny about it. But it also has this wonderful heart to it, and this wonderful humor that can really draw everybody in. It’s a perfect holiday show for the modern age, I think.”  “(Sedaris’s) observations are just so spot-on,” adds Dines. “It’s the perspective he brings to it, the perspective of the eccentricities of people.  Everybody’s eccentricities are heightened” by the holiday season—what Nathan Shelton calls “the best and worst of people... and it is highlighted perfectly in this show.”

Despite the fact that it’s designed as a one-person show, Dines and Shelton have added something to their production of Santaland Diaries: music. Says Shelton, “it has some wonderful musical pieces,” some of which are new this year, and all of which are performed by three young women he calls “The Crumpettes”—Hayley Roland, Cara Karr and Carolyn Billingsley.  As Dines explains, “The script is a one-man script... though it is not uncommon that productions add a musical element to it which is not in the script.” Shelton says the musical interludes allow him a bit of time to catch his breath during the performance.  But they also serve to fill out the evening a bit more, as the original script runs just under an hour in performance.  “We add the music to it to help make it a fuller piece,” says Dines.

The way ticket sales now stand, this opening weekend is perhaps your best bet to get to see this year’s run of Santaland Diaries.  “Next weekend is filling up really fast,” according to Rick Dines.  The show opens tonight, Friday December 8, at 7:30pm, and runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00pm, through December 17. For tickets call 831-8001 or visit www.springfieldcontemporarytheatre.org.