Highly Recommended ****In the hands of playwright Joe Mantello, director Jeremy Wechsler and actor Mitchell Fain, David Sedaris’ famous “The Santaland Diaries” becomes a one man play about a gay Jewish actor turned Holiday Elf at Macy’s in the desperate search, or perhaps in this case “quest,” for even mildly career-relevant employment that even the most talented actors sometimes face. To make the play about an actor rather than a writer gave it a light meta-theatrical (an adjective and noun not often seen together) flare that will be of interest to anyone who has ever worked in any capacity in the world of theater but especially actors, and a bit of relief for anyone who consumed so many of heavy meta-theatrical pieces that where showing in Chicago earlier this season.
My guest and I were both suffering greatly from “Christmas cheer” and were grateful to be greeted with the toast and blessing “l’chaim” from actor Mitchell Fain as the lights (Mike Durst) came on. Fain’s tale (he used his own name for the character) was a woeful one in which strange things happened in his stint as an Elf at Macy’s Winter Land in New York City. There was a bit of monotony early in the narrative where the absurdity concerning a Jewish actor pursuing holiday work as a Macy’s elf, largely because he was short, dominated the script, but it quickly disappeared as the narrative got closer to Christmas, especially when the curtain slid back and there was a visually dazzling set (Joe Wade) that offset the fact that one man was carrying the performance-end of the show. Mr. Fain’s surveys of the different Santa’s, how they related to the adults, the children, and the elves are as interesting as they are funny, and answers some of the questions that float in the back of our mind when we see Santa in malls at the holiday seasons as adults and wonder how, as children, we willing consumed the utter implausibility of it all.
Fain did some interactive improve during the show which fortunately embarrassed none of his victims. He is clearly a gifted comedian: important because this is a memoir and not a normal one-man script. In fact, it felt very much as though he was simply relating real experiences he had in a conversational manner (the improve obviously helped with this), and the whole conceit produced an astoundingly convincing effect despite the very light subject matter, and choice of director and actor to go for humor over pathos. In the end, it was exactly what it promised to be: straight laughs, despite how depressing some of the initial material seems at deeper glance. Ultimately, it will be hard to have left without your spirits cheered in whatever state the holidays may have you.
The Santaland Diaries is running at Theater Wit, located at 1229 W. Belmont Avenue, through December 28th with performances occurring at various days and times throughout the run. Tickets are between 24 and 36 dollars. They can be purchased at www.theaterwit.org or by calling 773-975-8150. This show has become an “annual holiday tradition” and while not as big as some of the others such as “A Christmas carol”, The Christmas Schooner” and of course, “It’s AWonderful Life, Live in Chicago!” it is in fact a true delight and an experience you will savor and relish.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “The Santaland Diaries”.