- The Washington Times - Monday, December 25, 2006

Consider the seasonal holiday worker. Only the seriously deranged or cash-crunched would take on a job at a mega-store stuffed with stressed shoppers, crying babies, incontinent tots and strung-out managers.

Satirist David Sedaris did just that at the ripe old age of 33, hired as an elf named Crumpet at Macy’s department store in New York. Mr. Sedaris’ stint at the ersatz North Pole turned into “The Santaland Diaries,” the reading of which has become a subversive holiday tradition on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition.”

Rep Stage turns the radio essay into an uproarious one-man show starring Bruce Nelson as the slacker forced to wear a belled cap and curly-toed felt slippers in order to make an honest buck. Under the gifted direction of Joe Brady, Mr. Nelson’s gleefully manic energy is perfect for Mr. Sedaris’ sardonic tale about the dark side of manufactured yuletide cheer.

Rushing in with snow on his cap and coat, Mr. Nelson soon settles atop a stool on the radio studio set to become David, a writer struggling to make ends meet who circles an ad for a seasonal helper at Macy’s.

Believing this to be one step up from dressing like a giant taco and handing out leaflets on Manhattan’s streets, David endures two rounds of interviews, drug testing, motivational cheers and “elf training” before donning the perpetually cheerful expression of one of Santa’s elves. The studio is gradually transformed into a suggestion of Macy’s elaborate holiday displays, as Robert Marietta’s set becomes cluttered with light-up candy canes, Christmas trees, artificial snow and signs pointing to the North Pole.

This inside peek into the shadows of Santa’s workshop is hilariously observant, as David relates the rigors of working with such fellow elves as brain-dead Gingerbread, who asks the manager if she could be an elf year-round and whether it’s OK to wear the costume home. One of the funniest portions deals with the various personalities of the Santas, from moody Jerome (who lectures children on the importance of avoiding communicable diseases) to a guy who appallingly never breaks character — even in the break room.

“The Santaland Diaries” also reveals the public’s behavior as less than sterling, ranging from mothers stashing soiled diapers in the fake snowdrifts and fathers who try to bribe elves with money to jump the line to whiny children experiencing total meltdowns, some of which are captured in souvenir photos.

Mr. Nelson radiates genial derision as David, working himself into a comic froth as the frenzy leading up to Christmas Eve accelerates. He even proves adept at ad-libbing, kibitzing with the audience, admonishing latecomers to come back and see the show at the beginning and gently mocking those who walk in front of the stage to do heaven knows what while Mr. Nelson is performing.

“The Santaland Diaries” adds a welcome bit of mockery to this season of merriment.

WHAT: “The Santaland Diaries” by David Sedaris

WHERE: Peter and Elizabeth Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center, Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, Md.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Jan. 7.

TICKETS: $16 to $24

PHONE: 410/772-4900

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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