Theater Review: Laughter center stage in Civic’s ‘SantaLand’
Featuring a single actor on a small black-box stage, “The SantaLand Diaries” boasts a level of intimacy that rivals the casual conversation you might have with people at home.
It often feels like the audience is chatting with the main character, David, as he rants and raves about his difficult and often hilarious work as Crumpet the Elf in Macy’s Santaland in New York City in “The SantaLand Diaries,” through Dec. 17, Theatre514, Civic Theatre of Allentown.
The actor, Jarrod Yuskauskas, playing David-Crumpet, provides frequent opportunities to do just that, cutting into his own lines to respond to various moments of laughter or comments emanating from the audience.
The one-man comedy is told from the perspective of author David Sedaris about the time he worked as an elf in Santaland. Joe Mantello adapted Sedaris’ essay for the stage.
There’s a certain courage that comes from the method of acting as demonstrated by Yuskauskas when he talks with theater-goers, myself included.
Yuskauskas made it a habit to walk up to patrons, punctuating his words and starting to converse with some excitedly, in different areas of the theater. This is his way of asking you to, in some small way, become a part of the play itself.
This is particularly important for a piece that, by and large, is one lengthy monologue, and it allows the various beats and movements to break the narrative into memorable chunks, punctuated by specific mannerisms.
The set is sparse, but done so with purpose. Props include a coffeemaker, newspaper, and odds and ends you’d find in a break-room at work. The throne meant for Santa, the focal point of Santaland, often becomes the catalyst for physical gags.
While most of the music numbers are typical Christmas fare, some have been chosen for absurd-looking, parody dance numbers meant to express the emotions Crumpet-David is feeling.
Audio is also frequently used as a segue between segments. A recorded voice, representing the department store announcer, occasionally chimes in over the loudspeaker, making references to the going-ons in the store at large.
“The Santaland Diaries” is more a collection of vignettes in the overarching narrative than a traditional play. Every aspect is presented with purpose, making the play feel meaningful because of the care that goes into everything as directed by Will Morris.
While Yuskauskas is certainly the show-stopper, he needs to be to make this play so incredibly funny and enjoyable. The lighting gags, audio cues, and little details truly elevate a standard one-act play to a lighthearted yet at times emotional piece that will stick in your mind well after you leave the theater.
Tickets: Civic Theater box office, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown; civictheatre.com; 610-432-8943