In 1992, writer David Sedaris gave the world the story of Crumpet, a desperate job seeker who finds work as a Macy’s department store elf. Originally read theatrically by Sedaris on NPR’s Morning Edition, “The Santaland Diaries” has become a holiday tradition; Crumpet has joined the ranks of other familiar holiday curmudgeons like Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge and Dr. Seuss’s Grinch as many seek to counteract the cheesy trimmings of the holiday season.
On Saturday, Actors Theatre of Louisville opened the one-hour show of Sedaris’ story — adapted in 1996 by Joe Mantello — with actor Bear Brummel shouldering the monologue. He eventually donned an exceptionally stunning pair of candy-cane-striped tights. (That was just part of Mike Floyd’s amazing costume for Crumpet, the Elf.)
What audiences should not to expect from this production is Brummel doing Sedaris. Under Meredith McDonough’s direction, Brummel as “Crumpet” laments his temporary lot in life and his department-store predicament without much of an awe-shucks demeanor or compassion. Brummel’s Crumpet bests in bitterness.
That and a strong dose of sarcasm hardly ever let up in this less-than-nuanced production. However, there is a welcome jingle from Barbra Streisand, and Brummel gives a stylish rendition of “Away in a Manger” as he imitates Billie Holiday.
The harshness in tone presents a contrast to the artful touches of music that provide levity in the radio piece. “The Santaland Diaries” also doesn’t have the benefit of using additional characters — like those in “A Christmas Carol” and “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” — who are able to easily tap into joy in those classic stories. Overall, Crumpet’s bitterness weighs the comedy in this piece down like an anvil.
So, there is so much relief for both Crumpet and the audience when the pitiful elf finds a Santa who really knows how to treat both children and adults with true kindness. That discovery helps Brummel’s character brighten to reveal a kindness that has been lacking for most of the hour.
When Crumpet’s outlook is too pessimistic, scenic designer William Boles presents Christmas eye candy. His captivating set pieces highlighted by lighting designer Paul Toben’s trimmings are exposed somewhat like an advent calendar — and have the power to surprise the audience with colorful revelations of Santaland.
The production of “The Santaland Diaries” at Actors Theatre of Louisville continues through Dec. 23 in the Victor Jory Theatre at Actors Theatre of Louisville, 316 W. Main St. Tickets are $37.10 to $77.38. For more information, call (502) 584-1205 or visit actorstheatre.org.
Elizabeth Kramer is on Twitter @arts_bureau and on Facebook at Elizabeth Kramer – Arts Writer.