By Minda Honey
I first encountered David Sedaris’ “The Santaland Diaries” in graduate school. The appeal of the essay is Sedaris looking at the happiest time of year through a snarky lens. While many of us want to be swept up in the cheer of the holidays, there’s something refreshing about having an outlet to be dark and sarcastic about the season. In the essay, Sedaris recounts the time he was facing financial struggles in New York City, so he applied for and accepted one of the few jobs he could actually get: Santa’s elf at Macy’s.
Actors Theatre really leaned into the fun of it all by gifting each of us with a nametag with our new elf name after we settled into our seats in the intimate Victor Jory Theatre. I was “Joy Wonderland” and my mother, whom I brought as my guest to the opening, became “Trixie Starlight” for the evening. Give yourself time to get to the show early because not only do they not allow late seating in the Victor Jory, but there’s also an opportunity for photos in Santa’s chair before you head in to see the show. When you first enter the theatre, there is little more on the stage than a tangled ball of colorful string lights. As the play progresses, Christmas explodes all over the room and more and more decked out props appear.
The stage becomes festooned in gold, glitter, lights and velvet. It’s all so wonderful it made me want a peek at Scenic Designer William Boles’ home holiday décor!
Although I was familiar with Sedaris’ essay, I was not prepared for the zeal Nathan Keepers brings to the role of Crumpet the Elf. Like any good one-man show, his energy is so bright and full, you hardly realize he’s alone onstage. His story telling is so vivid, you can envision with ease the families, the Santas and the other elves he’s telling stories about. Keepers is a crowd favorite who’s performed in several plays at Actors including “Peter and the Starcatcher,” “A Christmas Carol” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Keepers enters the room by strutting out of a janitor’s closet dressed in a red shirt and khakis like he’s a Target employee which, when you think about, is pretty close to being Santa’s helper during the holiday shopping rush. He bounds from one corner of the stage to the other, sometimes springing into the audience to exchange a bit of banter. He was completely at home with us all. It felt more like we were watching the life of the party tell us a good yarn in our living room than seated in a theatre. Somehow, it’s as if he gains even more energy as the night goes on.
One of the most delicious moments, during “The Santaland Diaries,” and Director Meredith McDonough knows it, is when Keepers puts on the Crumpet the Elf costume. He teases it out, first by revealing the costume, each piece hanging on a rod. He slowly dons each item, and each one makes him look more ridiculous and over the top. And the hat? The hat is quite literally the cherry on top! Costume designer Mike Floyd has truly outdone himself!
At the end of the evening, be sure you bring your program home with you. In the December issue of “Audience” Actors has included two wintertime cocktail recipes: a “White Winter” mojito and a “Frost Bite” mocktail. VT