Goodman's 'The Santaland Diaries' a sweetly snarky holiday treat

 
 
Posted12/8/2018 7:00 AM
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  • Matt Crowle makes his Goodman Theatre debut as Crumpet the Elf in director Steve Scott's sweetly snarky revival of "The Santaland Diaries."

    Matt Crowle makes his Goodman Theatre debut as Crumpet the Elf in director Steve Scott's sweetly snarky revival of "The Santaland Diaries." Courtesy of Erik Scanlon

  • Kevin Depinet's set sets the tone for Goodman Theatre's production of "The Santaland Diaries," directed by Steve Scott and starring Matt Crowle as Crumpet the Elf.

    Kevin Depinet's set sets the tone for Goodman Theatre's production of "The Santaland Diaries," directed by Steve Scott and starring Matt Crowle as Crumpet the Elf. Courtesy of Erik Scanlon

"The Santaland Diaries" - ★ ★ ★

For audiences unfamiliar with "The Santaland Diaries," David Sedaris' deliciously wry account of his stint as a department-store elf, the spirit of this show becomes apparent the moment they step into Goodman's Owen Theatre and encounter Kevin Depinet's splendiferous set.

Decorated trees and a smiling snowman flank an oversize candy cane and lollipop chair. Surrounded by a halo of Christmas lights, Santa's throne dominates the glittering red and green "Santaland" set, with a backdrop consisting of a pair of striped stockinged, jingle-belled, pointy-toe booted legs thrown in the air.

The message is clear: "Santaland Diaries" is no sugarcoated holiday treat. On the contrary, this solo show upends such sentimental, family-friendly fare.

But "Santaland" isn't just a skewering of consumerism, commercialism and those persistent expectations for the Rockwellian holiday that never materializes. That would be too easy.

Matt Crowle plays an aspiring actor who takes a job as a Macy's elf in Goodman Theatre's revival of David Sedaris' "The Santaland Diaries."
Matt Crowle plays an aspiring actor who takes a job as a Macy's elf in Goodman Theatre's revival of David Sedaris' "The Santaland Diaries." - Courtesy of Erik Scanlon

No, there's more to this incisive hourlong monologue adapted by Joe Mantello from Sedaris' 1992 essay. Director Steve Scott and star Matt Crowle understand that. And Goodman's sweetly snarky revival evidences just how well.

Crowle's discontented elf Crumpet -- an unemployed New York City actor who accepts a "full-time elf" position -- is a droll, acerbic observer of his fellow elves, assorted Santas and the harried, often bellicose, sometimes bigoted parents who accompany their children to Macy's Santaland.

But Crowle -- a song-and-dance man familiar to Drury Lane and Paramount theater audiences -- tempers Crumpet's cynicism, underscoring the elf's more caustic observations with compassion.

Case in point: Early on, Crowle's Crumpet uses an offensive word to describe Santaland's special needs visitors. Almost imperceptibly, he flinches and clenches his jaw. That's one example of a conscientiously equivocal performance by the subtle, perceptive Crowle.

Unemployed New York City transplant (Matt Crowle) applies to be a Macy's elf in "The Santaland Diaries," in a first-rate revival at Goodman Theatre.
Unemployed New York City transplant (Matt Crowle) applies to be a Macy's elf in "The Santaland Diaries," in a first-rate revival at Goodman Theatre. - Courtesy of Erik Scanlon

We watch his Crumpet become increasingly embattled as Christmas nears and he endures cranky customers who threaten to have him fired. And we share his desired yet unspoken response, which every service-industry employee has probably wanted to utter.

Directed with clear-eyed vigor by Scott, an artistic associate and retired Goodman producer, "The Santaland Diaries" ultimately suggests the holiday spirit can soften the edges of the most jaded soul. But not entirely.

That's what makes Sedaris' writing such a delight and his Santaland Diaries" essential holiday fare.

• • •

Location: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, (312) 443-3800 or goodmantheatre.org

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 30. Also 7 p.m. Dec. 23; 2 p.m. Dec. 24; no performances Dec. 25

Tickets: $25-$61

Running time: About 65 minutes, no intermission

Parking: $22 with Goodman validation at the Government Self Park at Lake and Clark streets

Rating: For adults; includes mature language and subject matter, potentially offensive references

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