By Karen Isaacs
The Santaland Diaries which is now at MTC in Norwalk through Dec. 20, can be an utter delight for teens and adults, who want a more humorous and cynical look at the holidays.
David Sedaris originally wrote the book which is semi-autobiographical: it is about an aspiring writer who arrives in New York City, needs a job and ends up as an elf in Macy’s Santaland in Harold Square. Here is a grown man who spends his day in red and white striped tights, a yellow jabot, a green velveteen jacket and a santalike hat. Plus he answers to the name of “Crumpet.”
Sedaris chronicled his adventures from the interview process through training and then onto his experiences in Santaland – with customers, other employees and the various Santa who all seem to have their own idiosyncrasies.
Joe Mantello adapted the work to a one person production which has found success throughout the land.
It can be a challenging but delightful part for an actor – he gets to portray various people and their unique voices and attitudes as well as giving us the “inside dope” on what goes on.
In the right hands it can be wonderful. But in this production directed by Kevin Connors something is amiss.
Matt Densky plays Crumpet but certainly in the first half of the show (it is just over 60 minutes with a brief intermission), he does not get the laughs the piece deserves.
In thinking about his portrayal, I believe that several errors were made. First, he starts too over-the-top energetic which gives him little room for ratcheting up the energy when the days count down to Christmas Eve. He also seems to “dish” to the audience too much; at times, it is like he is channeling a Jim Parsons character rather than a write who is less than enthusiastic about needing this job.
In the second half, he seemed to generate the laughs that are in the script and his rendition of Liza Minelli singing a holiday song is terrific.
We will recognize many of the characters he briefly portrays – the parents who are exasperated at crying children, families who view the entire visiting Santa as a giant party or foreign tourists absolutely bewildered by the whole experience. He tells us of celebrity visits and staff who finally “lose it.”
But the basic problem with Densky’s portrayal is we never feel sympathetic to Crumpet; there should be a sense of inner desperation about him that we don’t feel. Instead he is like an “Entertainment Tonight” gossip columnist.
Carl Tallent has created an effective replica of Satanland for the set and Diane Vanderkroef has given us the garish elf costume.
If you’ve never seen The Santaland Diaries you will find this production pleasant, but it could have been so much more.
The Santaland Diaries is at MTC, 509 Westport Ave., Norwalk through Dec. 20. For tickets call 203-454-3883 or musictheatreofct.com.