Review: The Santaland Diaries at Blackfriars

If you are feeling a little more naughty than nice this Christmas season, The Santaland Diaries may be the perfect stuff for your stocking. In the show, a holiday tradition at Staunton’s American Shakespeare Center, seasoned Shakespearean actor Rick Blunt relives humorist David Sedaris’ story about his days as a 30-something man employed as one of Santa’s elves at a Macy’s in Manhatten. The hilariously irreverent one-man show reveals multiple sides of human nature by taking a raw look behind the scenes of one of America’s most sacred traditions, the annual visit to Santa Claus.

Blunt comes out kicking. Hammering hard on Sedaris’ wry words, he brings his own voice to the piece, which is traditionally delivered in Sedaris’ own whiney, slightly effete manner. Blunt also brings his own comedic skills to the fore with his “regular guy” style of delivery and physicality. Just by being a big burley sort, Blunt evokes laughter as he shows off his red and white candy-cane striped tights, giving his performance a visual absurdity all its own.

Blunt is also brilliant at presenting the other characters in the piece. Particularly fun are his spot-on depictions of a smarmy Santaland coworker he calls “The Walrus” where he blatantly flirts with a female patron, and his version of “Santa Santa,” a somewhat delusional Santaland co-worker. I even found myself happily cheering “S-A-N-T-A” with the rest of the audience led by Blunt, whose real genius in the piece is his ability to make his depiction of Santaland inviting and engaging.

Although the evening was quite entertaining, Blunt lost his place in the monologue more than once—although technically, the evening was a dress rehearsal—something that will certainly be remedied for upcoming performances. His overtly masculine interpretation of the script works overall, and even infuses it with some darker meanings. It’s humorous when an effeminate interpretation of Sedaris’ character tells a little girl she has a waist most women would kill for, but a tad disturbing when Blunt says it. The bit in which Crumpet receives flirtatious overtures from a fellow elf named Snowball is similarly different in tone in Blunt’s version. Did I mention this show is recommended for adult audiences only?

The Santaland Diaries does a great job of balancing out all the sugary sweetness of earnest holiday shows like A Christmas Carol or The Homecoming. When the holidays inevitably drive us up the wall, we need to hear that Santa is an anagram for Satan. Which isn’t to say we don’t have room in our hearts for lines like “God bless us, everyone,” but every once in a while, there’s nothing like hearing “Now get your ass on Santa’s lap and smile before I give you something to cry about!”

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