IF YOU GO
What: One-man show adapted from David Sedaris essay about working as a Macy's elf
When: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday through Dec. 19; 8 p.m. Dec. 19-23, 2:30 p.m. Wednesday & Sundays through Dec. 23
Where: 2267 1st Street, Fort Myers
Cost: $25; $12 for college students
Information: (239) 332-4488, floridarep.org
Something else: Free parking across the street
FORT MYERS — Florida Repertory Theatre's production of "The Santaland Diaries," back for a second helping of snark through Dec. 23, seems well on its way to becoming a Christmas tradition. Jason Parrish's Crumpet the Elf might edge aside Rudolph and Frosty as a holiday must-see, at least in Southwest Florida.
"Santaland," an out-of-work writer's account of his time spent working as an elf at Macy's annual Christmas extravaganza, launched the career of humorist David Sedaris when it appeared on National Public Radio in 1992. Joe Mantello adapted the work for the stage as a one-man show.
Like all Sedaris's work, "Santaland" takes an unflinching look at American culture - with a withering eye toward the crass attitudes we've developed toward the holiday season. Nearly two decades on, the pointed observations about parents seeking the "perfect" holiday photo, screaming children, must-have toys and more still ring true.
Chris Clavelli replaces Brian Maschka in the director's chair and moves the setting from Macy's to Chris Simpson's apartment set stocked with chips, wine and a charmingly demented array of Christmas decor drawn from the dialogue that rewards sharp-eyed audience members. I won't spoil the surprises, but be warned there's a crucifix with a Santa cap on it. If you're peckish, sit in the first row and enjoy the beverages and chips being passed around.
Last year's deliberate, contemplative show (READ THE REVIEW) explored the anti-consumerist themes in Sedaris's essay, and how we've gotten away from the spirit of the holidays. Clavelli goes in another direction entirely, focusing instead on the humor and storytelling of the piece. It feels like a completely different show - bigger, louder, funnier and bursting with snarky commentary.
This year's zippy, freewheeling experience feels like a group of friends knocking back the eggnog and laughing over memories of tyrannical supervisors, insane customers, elves named Crumpet, Snowball and "chocolate Santa" Jerome, who tells kids to consider a career in entomology. Yet, the sly "what happened to Christmas?" message slips in when you least expect it, like with a quiet, peaceful, beautifully told segment about a mystery Santa who focuses on family instead of presents - as should we all.
Moving the show out of the Macy's setting opens the show up and allows Parrish the freedom to just tell the story - and he leans into the work with gusto. This "Santaland" sparkles with the humor and wit of the original essay and the tinsel-strewn yarns seems to spin themselves. Even if more active (a frenetic Parrish never stops moving), the show seems less labored than last year's low-key presentation. The hour flies by - and leaves you longing for just a few more tales from the mischievous elf clad in green velvet and hung with jingle bells.
The renewed presentation comes across like a deliciously fun wine-sloshed holiday party that ends up with someone wearing a lampshade and all sorts of embarrassing photos on Facebook the next day. Every jingle of our elfin hero's bell-bedecked cap and shoes carries for miles - although the same could be said for every squeak of the needed-to-be-oiled office chair that serves as an impromptu throne for Crumpet's regal adventures.
Clavelli's refresh makes the show feel more like a gaudy box of Norman Love chocolates than last year's fruitcake - and Parrish brings Crumpet to life again with a delightful twinkle in his eye and a renewed spring in his step. "Santaland" is a stocking brimming with goodies, so race down the stairs to enjoy it.
I'm probably getting coal for Christmas. E-mail me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.