BWW Reviews: Stray Dog Theatre Presents David Sedaris' THE SANTALAND DIARIES
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by Chris Gibson
As a critic, over a relatively short period of time, I've seen several different plays several different times, and with each repeat viewing I 've had to start weighing exactly how I felt about a script to begin with, against the specific work of a performer (especially during a solo piece) and how they were directed, as would be expected. But, as a writer it's all about making what you've seen before, fresh again. Though, I'd missed my original booking of The Santaland Diaries, I'd made it a point to come back so I could check out the lead, and although I still prefer my original experience, this was a well done take on the work of David Sedaris, which certainly benefited greatly from a much grander costume and scenic design than the original version.
But for this play, it all comes down to the Elf, and by that I mean the one employed by a major department store who comments acerbically on the disturbing acts of false enthusiasm, as well as the overstuffed sense of expectation that often seems to guide the Christmas season, if you let it. Sedaris kind of sums up the mood of those whose collective spirit is, rightly or wrongly, "Bah, Humbug, although the effect is softened somewhat from that rather harsh reality.
The Elf here was well played by Ben Watts, who's given what seems like a great deal of space with which to bandy about as he spews forth his dastardly, but basically grounded in truth, attacks on the holiday season and all the moral corruption it entails. These are his, through the voice of David Sedaris (as filtered through writer/playwrght Nick Mantello), select reasons for the demise and resurrection he's just experienced in the current Season of Noel, and by this point in time, most of us share the same pettiness and pet peeves that his character does, or maybe it's the play itself working on an audience member's jaded memory. In any event, it's the third time I've seen it in the last couple of years and it shocked me considerably more then, so maybe we're all becoming a little more cynical about the yuletide season. Or maybe, it just me.
This was a nicely directed (Gary Bell) and strongly voiced and acted production (Ben Watts), with a great Elf costume from Nicole Winning, and a marvelous lighting scheme from Tyler Duenow, as well as Jay Hall's (with lots of little helpers) festive scenic art. I'd wish I'd been able to promote this earlier, but since I missed that deadline, I will mention that Stray Dog Theatre's next production is Urinetown, which promises to be of keen interest, if only for the possibilities that the Tower Grove Abbey is beginning to show.