The Santaland Diaries

The Santaland Diaries

Stage A good storyteller makes you feel like you’re the only person in the audience. A good actor makes you feel like there is no audience. One-man shows—especially adaptations from personal stories—stand on a tricky, razor-thin line between the two. Such is the case in Staunton with the American Shakespeare Center’s production of The Santaland Diaries at Blackfriars Playhouse. It’s David Sedaris’ hilarious, true-life story about his years as a Macy’s Christmas elf.

Crumpet, a "low-key sort of elf," is brought to life by Paul Fidalgo in David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries.

Paul Fidalgo, who plays Crumpet, nails some moments. When he imitates a head elf leading a boisterous cheer of “S-A-N-T-A,” you’ll want your own pointy shoes. When he tells a little boy that Santa will steal the kid’s TV if he isn’t good, you’ll laugh out loud. And when he, à la Kermit the Frog, sings “Away in a Manger,” you’ll fall out of your seat. But at a December 5 preview performance, Fidalgo seemed unsure when to be a storyteller and when to be an actor. As a result, he waffles and leaves a lot of good jokes on the table.

This isn’t the first time that Blackfriars has staged The Santaland Diaries, and it is a good thing that the story is becoming a holiday tradition. Anyone who has witnessed crying, tired, hungry children having their picture taken with Santa will tear with laughter from Sedaris’ wit and cynicism.

But It’s a Wonderful Life this is not. In fact, the worst part of the script is the forced, true-spirit-of-Christmas ending: Joe Mantello, who adapted the story for the stage, tries too hard to turn Christmas coal into a diamond. The best parts of the script are the irreverent, honest, foul, and ridiculous vignettes on store policies, outrageous characters and rampant selfishness.

Hitch a sleigh for The Santaland Diaries at Staunton’s Blackfriars Playhouse during December, and make sure to arrive early for John Harrell’s pre-show. Harrell played Crumpet in 2004 and 2005 and starts each night around 7:15pm with a few entertaining songs on an acoustic guitar. Far from filler, his playing and voice are deserving of a longer set.