I tried something different this holiday season. I refused to see A Christmas Carol, and I only succumbed to The Nutcracker to appease family members. It's not that I dislike these "beloved holiday traditions." It's just that I've seen them before. And there's a reason they're called "beloved holiday traditions." They're good. They're done well. People like them. But I wanted something different.
That's why I was glad to hear that, in addition to producing A Christmas Carol for the 678th time, American Theatre Company was also putting on another show. An edgy Christmas show. A show for adults only.
The Santaland Diaries is a short story turned one-man play by David Sedaris, an award-winning humorist and National Public Radio contributor. In fact, The Santaland Diaries is the essay credited with launching Sedaris' career in 1992. It marked his first appearance on NPR. Two years later, that story and a collection of others were published in Barrel Fever, the first of a string of best-selling novels. Those that followed include Naked, Holidays on Ice, Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.
The Santaland Diaries, adapted into a one-man play by Joe Mantello, tells of Sedaris' gig working as a holiday elf in a New York City Macy's at Christmas time. It opens with the humiliating task of actually applying to be a Christmas elf at the Macy's Santaland. And the only thing worse than applying to be a Santaland elf, recounted Mike Pryor (last seen as Riff Raff in ATC's Rocky Horror Picture Show) as Sedaris, was the very real possibility that he might not get the job.
Sedaris, whose elf name is Crumpet (not quite as jolly as all the other elves), divulges the details of training and working as an elf at the North Pole of Macy's. Much of it disgusts him. The way everything elves say ends in exclamation points. Having to speak with forced merriment. Not being able to say what he really wants to sniveling children and outrageous parents.
Being led on by a young, handsome elf only to find he had been flirting with almost all of the other elves (and Santas, for that matter) in the store.
I listened not long ago to Sedaris' telling of the tale on NPR, and I must say, Pryor did an excellent job replaying it. The story, while dry and witty, isn't mean-spirited. In fact, it's just about as truthful as you can get (anyone who's worked a job he hates with annoying coworkers and managers on a power trip will relate). And Pryor plays his part with just enough vulnerability that you related to his saga (while also laughing your ass off) without feeling too sorry for him.
Oh, and the costume. Pryor looks more like a court jester than a holiday elf. And probably feels like one, too.
Later this weekend, as I finished my Christmas shopping at Promenade Mall, I couldn't help but giggle a little as I passed the line of children and parents waiting to have their pictures taken with Santa. Though there were no elves, there were a few jolly folks trying their damndest to get crying children to sit on Santa's laps and smile while their parents either threatened, begged or bribed them.
The Santaland Diaries continues this weekend, Dec. 20-22, at 8pm in the Liddy Doenges Theater of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E. 2nd St. Showtime is 8:15pm, and tickets are $20. Call 596-7111 or visit www.tulsapac.com for tickets and other information.
Christmas in the Buff
I also headed to the Nightingale this weekend to get me into the Christmas spirit. Even the 50 Swats Collective was taking a different turn with its holiday show. Instead of The Eight Reindeer Monologues, the ever-popular, ever-raunchy original show of Christmases past, the group opened Unwrapped, a collection of monologues and short scenes centered on a holiday theme.
Now, I'm used to walking into this small, dark theater and being as far removed from tradition as possible. So you can imagine my surprise when I entered to hear what sounded like an off-key children's chorus singing, "Oh, come ye, oh come ye to Bethlehem..." More Christmas carols followed.
I had been warned that this show would be a little tamer than the ones I'm used to seeing at Nightingale, and this was partly true. Each act, divided into 12 and 10 pieces, respectively, had just enough truth, just enough filth and just enough Christmas spirit to put anyone in the holiday mood. Dare I say, there were even moments I almost got a warm, fuzzy feeling in my belly.
But the show was never overly sentimental. The pieces that fell into this warm/fuzzy category still had a point, still made a statement. And they were as well-written and well-performed as anything the 50 Swats has done.
There were pieces about picking out the perfect gift, about the horrors of holiday shopping, about the origins of Christmas and about loving the members of your family for the dysfunctional, manic-depressive assholes they are.
And then there were the ones about Jesus being someone's gay bitch lover, prostitution and aliens. Really, it was a nice balance.
Unwrapped continues this weekend, Dec. 20-22, at the Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. 4th St. Showtime is at 8pm, and tickets are $8. For those and other information, visit www.nightingaletheater.com or call 633-8666.
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