Written by Daniella Litvak
The holiday season inevitably stirs up a lot of emotions. Right now, I’m nostalgic, remembering the time a friend gave me a book tiled Holidays On Ice and thereby, introducing me to the world of humorist David Sedaris. I have read other Sedaris works since then, but Holidays On Ice has stuck with me the most, probably because it features my favorite Sedaris authored work, “SantaLand Diaries.”
Admittedly choosing “SantaLand Diaries” as my favorite is not a surprising choice. Back in 1992 Sedaris was an unknown artist until the day he made, “his comic début on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, reading ‘SantaLand Diaries.” Sedaris was a hit, and that reading became Sedaris’ springboard to a prolific career, which includes several published books, two Grammy Award nominations, and a stage adaptation of the “SantaLand Diaries” combined with “Season’s Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!” (another selection from Holidays On Ice) titled The SantaLand Diaries & Season’s Greetings.
Warning, while there are a couple of genuine warm and fuzzy moments, the show is a satire and doesn’t pull any punches about the steamier side of the holidays or humanity in general. As advertised, the show is intended “for mature elves only.”
The play consists of two plotlines. One is about David (Christopher Sullivan), a thirty-five year old man living in New York City who has become so destitute, he is forced to take a job working as an elf in Macy’s SantaLand. The other is Jocelyn Dunbar (Shana Jean Martin) recounting to her friends and family (via her annual holiday newsletter) about the latest Dunbar family happenings, which include the arrival of Jocelyn’s husband’s lovechild from Vietnam and taking custody of her grandson while the mother is at rehab. For the most part the two storylines are discrete. It would be easy to imagine each plot as its own one-man show or being its own act.
However, the stories are told concurrently. It begins with David and Jocelyn making their entrance onto the stage, and David heads to the side resembling an apartment/employee break room while Jocelyn is on the side made up to look like a living room. Then they take turns talking about two very different subjects. At first it seems odd to watch two actors performing in such close proximity without any connection or effect on each other’s characters. The stories themselves don’t intersect much at all. Yet, thanks to the staging and set design, the characters were able to interact with each other. For example when Jocelyn was unpacking a box, she took out a binder David immediately picked up so he could show the audience his “Elf Guidelines.” It was also really smart to not have the actors confined to their areas but to allow them to use the whole stage. Watching Jocelyn clean up David’s mess and David lounging on Dunbar’s couch added some nice background moments. Also Jocelyn decorating the whole stage for Christmas was able to illustrate a thematic connection between the two plots. The drawbacks to the concurrent storytelling are the back and forth sometimes make it hard to follow the storylines and can lead to experiencing some very strange mood whiplash.
Sullivan and Martin do a good job in their roles of David and Jocelyn. Sullivan gets more of the flashier comedic bits, but Martin is able capture your attention just as well –though her looking down and “reading” from her newsletter was distracting. They also did well when the script called for them to act dramatically. (Although the show’s heartfelt moments felt a little bit underdeveloped).
Overall, I think the Modjeska Playhouse put together a good production of The SantaLand Diaries & Season’s Greetings. Yet, ultimately, I think your enjoyment of it will depend on much you like the work of David Sedaris. I recommend getting a feel for Sedaris’ style before you decide to see the show.
December 4th – 20th 8pm
(If you plan on going to this show, buying a ticket from this link helps support and keep the Orange Curtain Review running, Thank you.)
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 Taken from Modjeska Playhouse’s The SantaLand Diaries & Season’s Greetings Program