The Riverside Theatre production of “Santaland Diaries,” written by David Sedaris, opened Thursday (12/6) and has a sold out runs through Sunday (12/9). This one-man show is remarkably effective, as presented by one of the region’s finest actors, Tim Budd.
These shows, mark Budd’s 40th production at Riverside Theatre, and his familiarity with the intimate theatre pays off handsomely. He is entirely comfortable in the 100 seat house, in which every word and gesture is heard and seen to maximum effect. The actor knows this work inside out, having performed it off and on for the past eight years. Sustaining a 70-minute work by a single performer is a daunting challenge, and Budd has mastered this particular esthetic triathalon. Budd and Sedaris are a fine team.
Sedaris is masterful storyteller, whose primary medium is radio. Indeed, “Santaland Diaries,” as broadcast on National Public Radio in December 1992, gave Sedaris his start. The 20 years since that time have been filled with radio broadcasts, essays in the New Yorker, book publications and touring live performance. The performer recently appeared at the Iowa Memorial Union on the University of Iowa campus to an enthusiastic audience. His charisma is strong and vital, his very New York sense of humor is superb.
This particular work is based on holiday time at Macy’s Department Store, in which the main figure chronicles his employment as Crumpet, the elf. Crumpet works closely with several Santas, as part of the annual Christmas promotion. If you’ve ever been in Macy’s in December, you know of the thousands of tourists and New Yorkers who descend on the store, if not upon Santa’s lap. These holiday events take a devastating toll on the practitioners.
Sedaris has a skilled eye and ear, and his observations of the parents and the kids who want their picture taken with Santa is mostly hilarious, sometimes poignant and always richly affirmative of the human condition. The relentless crush of humanity in Macy’s brings out forced hilarity, mechanical smiles and abiding cynicism in its elves and santas. This is definitely an “R” rated production, not for children, as the expression of the behind-the-scenes frustration is often hilariously blunt.
This show is a welcome relief from the nostalgic, family-oriented productions that dominate our celebration of the holidays. Endless annual performances of “The Nutcracker,” and “The Christmas Carol” often leave performers disgruntled, despite the fact that they pay the bills for all concerned. The push to celebrate this aggressively promoted holiday brings out the worst in us, and rarely the best. Sedaris is there to record the full spectrum of all-too-human behavior, with savagely funny result.
“Santaland Diaries” is sold out for its run, a well-earned tribute to the work of David Sedaris, to Tim Budd, and to Riverside Theatre. Maybe next year?