Merry & Gay – a review of “The Santaland Diaries”

Mike Buzzelli

By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant

It’s Christmastime in the city, and author and playwright David Sedaris reminds us that the season isn’t all comfort and joy in “The Santaland Diaries.”

Unemployed stoner David (Shua Potter) has moved to the big city and is in desperate need of employment. Then, right before his money runs out, he lands an odd gig – playing Crumpet the Elf in Macy’s Department Store, a sidekick to the store Santa.

David AKA Crumpet recounts his most bizarre experiences working with several Santa’s and a myriad of elves in a series of diary entries. They are hilarious and heartfelt bon mots about the joys and pains of the holidays. Joe Mantello’s adaptation is crisp and clean, savoring the most sarcastic and sardonic bits.

As Christmas nears, David gets grumpier and grumpier about his gig as a full-time Elf. He says, “There was a line for Santa and a line for the women’s bathroom, and one woman, after asking me a dozen questions already, asked, ‘Which is the line for the women’s bathroom?’ I shouted that I thought it was the line with all the women in it. She said, ‘I’m going to have you fired.’

He adds, “I had two people say that to me today, ‘I’m going to have you fired.’ Go ahead, be my guest. I’m wearing a green velvet costume; it doesn’t get any worse than this. Who do these people think they are?”

The diary is a fantastic story told very well by Potter. He is a charismatic young man. Even though “The Santaland Diaries” is almost all dialogue and little action, director Monteze Freeland keeps things moving.

Shua Potter as Crumpet the Elf sits in Santa’s chair recounting “The Santaland Diaries.”

But wait there’s more! “Santaland Diaries” is a short play, but director Monteze Freeland and actor Shua Potter spice things up with a delightul amuse bouche before our main course in “Santa’s TED Talk.” Though Santa does not appear, Potter dressed as Mrs. Claus shows up before we open the diary. Mrs. Rachel Claus is basically Fran Drescher in red velvet.  A Jewish American Princess married to a hero of the holiday. Its a brilliant juxtaposition. The character is laugh-out-loud funny. For added fun, the piece is peppered with Pittsburgh references.  Maybe not so much peppered, but laden with French fries and cole slaw.

Freeland and Potter wrote the opening show and, though short, it’s a tasty little morsel.

We even get two songs. Potter’s alter ego, Mrs. Rachel Claus, ain’t your mama’s drag queen. Potter sings instead of lip syncs. For reals. It’s Broadway caliber singing (Potter was in Broadway’s “Mary Poppins”).

Potter is a dynamic lead in both shows – with vastly different characters.  We have to assume that Potter played both characters because Mrs. Rachel Claus is billed as “herself.” But I’m willing to place a hefty bet.

Tony Ferrieri’s set is a Christmas wonderland, red, green and gold (there are two triangular set pieces in a light yellow that my seatmate, Missy Moreno, referred to as “big slices of cheesecake”).  The set looks a lot like the arcade game Q*Bert. As Kramer would say, “Its all about the levels, Jerry.”

The stage is beautifully lit by Andrew David Ostroski.

It’s festive, but not for the whole family; the poster reminds the audience that the material is for “mature elves only.” After all, we blow the lid open on “the Santa at the store isn’t really Santa thing.” But, truth be told, Christmas has never been funnier.


“The Santaland Diaries” runs almost up to Christmas (December 22) at the City Theatre, The Lester Hamburg Studio, 1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. For more information, click here.


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