”I’ve always loved Christmas,” admits David Sedaris with exasperation. ”I was surprised when people read The SantaLand Diaries and thought I was anti-Christmas.”
Actually, the misunderstanding is natural considering the material: SantaLand, Sedaris’ caustic true-life tale of his two-year stint as a Macy’s department store elf who offers more holiday sneer than cheer, comes to wickedly hilarious life through Jan. 5 at New York City’s Atlantic Theater. The sold-out show has quickly become the downtown alternative to traditional holiday theater.
After Sedaris quit a teaching job in Chicago (where he studied painting at the prestigious Art Institute) and moved to New York, the only work he could find was doling out candy canes for $7 an hour. But the North Carolina native’s quirky manner didn’t meld with his new elf persona. ”You go from people calling you ‘Mr. Sedaris’ to calling you ‘Crumpet,”’ he deadpans. ”It plays games with your psyche.”
Sedaris, who turns 40 the day after Christmas, turned those games to his advantage. ”I wrote it thinking parody, satire,” he laughs. When acclaimed stage director Joe Mantello first read SantaLand Diaries in Sedaris’ best-selling 1994 collection Barrel Fever, he saw it as theater. ”David’s writing is so peculiar and twisted,” says Mantello. ”I had to bring it to the stage.” With Sedaris, Mantello has made SantaLand into a funny and poignant tour de farce.
”It’s easy to identify with Crumpet’s self-loathing,” says star Timothy Olyphant. ”I feel like a bonehead in the elf suit.” But what an elf suit. Among SantaLand’s cool credentials are costumes by designer Isaac Mizrahi, a set by New Yorker cover artist Ian Falconer, and a soundscape by Talking Heads mixer David Van Tieghem.
Sedaris and Mantello add to the hipness: Sedaris’ next book, Naked, will come out next year, and Mantello’s film directorial debut, of the Broadway hit Love! Valour! Compassion! (which he directed on stage), just wrapped.
”If you play your cards right, Christmas is a time for getting stuff. I’m happy to give. But,” Sedaris says with an elfin grin, ”I don’t want to take any chances on getting.”