If you're an NPR listener, you'll know the story well. After all, they run it every single holiday season without fail. Ever since it was first broadcast on Morning Edition in 1992, David Sedaris' classic Christmas misadventure, The Santaland Diaries, has become a public radio classic, and helped launch the writer's career. The tale, which is the (mostly) true story of Sedaris' career-altering gig as an elf at Macy's, is the basis for a one-man stage adaptation, showing now at the Volcanic Theatre Pub and at 2nd Street Theater here in Bend.
While Sedaris has made a name for himself as a humorist of a particularly dry and subtle bent, Derek Sitter, a professional actor and owner of the Volcanic Theatre Pub, has no such compunction. And to be fair, he admits right from the start that his performance is no Sedaris impression.
"This is more like a story time TED Talk in a psych ward," he says, as a slideshow spools up behind him. The performance consists of a dramatized reading, accompanied by a random smattering of slides projected onto a screen behind the podium. A sound engineer punctuates the slides with mock announcements, effects, and well-timed zingers. The result is a dynamic 90 minutes of profane frivolity, sure to warm the heart of even the most calcified Christmas cynic.
The story follows Crumpet, Sedaris' alter ego in the underworld of Santa-themed employment. Sitter, whose interpretation of Crumpet includes the ubiquitous green velvet suit, candy-cane striped stockings, and at least two F-bombs per sentence, flits through a wide range of emotions as his character experiences rage, disgust, and finally acceptance of his miserable job—which finds him negotiating with hysterical parents, being paged to the "vomit corner," and threatening children who don't behave.
"Santa changed his policy and no longer traffics in coal. Instead, if you're bad, he comes to your house and steals things. I told Riley that if he didn't behave himself, Santa was going to take away his TV and all his electrical appliances and leave him in the dark."
Crumpet, who through the course of the performance becomes more and more hardened to the spirit of the season—even going so far as to change his name to Blister—ultimately redeems himself in an unexpected moment of grace. Those familiar with the story will see this one coming, but what is surprising is Sitter's emotional performance. The scene, in which an inspired Santa reminds a family to cherish their daughter (who sits on his lap), is meant to provide a brief and important contrast to the sardonic romp that comes before. For Sitter, the poignant moment where Santa describes the young girl's beauty and precious innocence is heightened when an image of his own daughter, Lily, appears on the screen.
Don't miss this irreverent celebration of the many absurdities, and a few sentimental moments that make Christmas foibles worth the effort.