Northwestern Press

Thursday, December 14, 2017
CONTRIBUTED PHOTOJarrod Yuskauskas, “The SantaLand Diaries,” Dec. 8 - 17, Theatre514, Allentown CONTRIBUTED PHOTOJarrod Yuskauskas, “The SantaLand Diaries,” Dec. 8 - 17, Theatre514, Allentown

Return to ‘SantaLand’ at Civic

Thursday, December 7, 2017 by LUKE MUENCH Special to The Press in Focus

During the season when “A Christmas Carol” dominates the stage and “It’s a Wonderful Life” dominates the silver screen, Civic Theatre of Allentown Associate Artistic Director-Production Manager Will Morris is excited to bring a different flavor of Christmas to the Civic stage.

Morris again directs Jarrod Yuskauskas in the one-man show, “The SantaLand Diaries,” Dec. 8 - 17, Theatre514, Allentown. The show, with Yushauskas playing a not so happy elf, had its Lehigh Valley debut during the 2016 holiday season at Civic to sold-out shows.

The one-man comedy is told from the perspective of author David Sedaris as a thinly-veiled roman a clef about the time he spent working as an elf in the department store Santa attraction at Macy’s Herald Square New York City show.

Yuskauskas, in the role of Crumpet the Elf, speaks in direct address to the audience about the struggles and frustrations he faces in his rather thankless job.

The stage show is based on an essay Sedaris first read on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” Dec. 23, 1992. The essay was published in the collections, “Barrel Fever” (1994) and “Holidays on Ice” (1997). A longer version aired on Public Radio International’s “This American Life,” Dec. 20, 1996.

Joe Mantello adapted Sedaris’ essay for the stage as a one-man, one-act play, “The SantaLand Diaries,” which debuted at the Atlantic Theater Company, New York City, Nov. 7, 1996.

“There are many of us who are looking for something a little more wry around the holidays to combat feeling overwhelmed or inundated by Christmas cheer,” Morris says. “That somehow puts us in the Christmas spirit more. I easily get overwhelmed and tired by the jovial nature of Christmas, so it’s nice to have something else to turn to.

“David [Sedaris] has written himself into the piece, and so he’s that friend who you never want to get on his bad aside, but is full of such cleverness and wit that’s engaging.

“You get to see what he’s really like when he’s not performing, and you get to see a large juxtaposition over what he has to be, Crumpet the jolly, merry elf. It’s hysterical watching the transformation, with the character quickly flipping back and forth. I still genuinely laugh every time I see it,” says Morris.

Talking to the audience in character is a challenge for actor and director.

“It’s obviously more intense, intimate, in terms of the production of the piece. As a director or actor, you can normally hide behind other things or get lost in the fray, but there’s nowhere to hide here.

“The play takes place behind the scenes, so [the set] is meant to suggest the elves’ break room, to get away from ‘SantaLand,’ where they voice their issues. It’s all set in 1994 so we pull music from that time period. Some of it Christmas and some of it not,” Morris says.

While this is a play meant to poke fun at or point out many of the stresses of the Christmas season, the message, in many ways, is still that of positivity and community.

“I think the end of the play really brings about the idea of we’re all in this together. It touches on and embraces the idea of Christmas, a time of year when we need to sit back and look at what’s important in our lives. He [Sedaris] is making fun of people and is embittered by his circumstance, but the point is to engage the audience.”

Much of the play’s tone can lead the audience to feel as though they are part of the production, as well.

“In many ways, the audience is very much a character just as much as the actor. The audience is a therapist that he needs to tell, and connect with,” Morris says.

Morris hopes that Civic Theatre’s take on ‘The SantaLand Diaries” allows audience members to know that they are not alone during this high-octane and stressful season.

“The most important thing for me is for a patron to come and laugh and have a good time and embrace those, not dark but somewhat darker, thoughts around the holiday season and not hide from them but accept and laugh at them.

“The holidays are so pressurized, so it’s OK. You’re not a Scrooge. Just because today I might very much dislike Christmas because of the stuff that goes along with it, I’m surrounded by 93 other people in this room who feel the same way and are having a good time,” says Morris.

Tickets: Civic Theater box office, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown; civictheatre.com; 610-432-8943