One-man play satirizes mall Santas
By Cheryl Minns, Arts Editor
Prepare for a trip down memory lane as the Arts Club’s The Santaland Diaries tells the tale of a 33-year-old man (Toby Berner) struggling to survive the Christmas season as Crumpet the Elf in Macy’s Santaland in December 1992.
With references to videocassette cameras, Phil Collins, and the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Theme Song,” this play offers audiences a truly ‘90s experience.
The one-man, one-act play—adapted by Joe Mantello from a David Sedaris essay—follows Crumpet’s journey as he moves his way up the candy cane ladder at Macy’s Santaland, from cleaning up after sick children to becoming Santa’s assistant.
He describes the agony of having to wear a fake smile while watching heartless parents force their crying children onto Santa’s lap, families taking multiple photos and videos from various angles for “posterity,” and mothers coaching their children on reciting a predetermined wish list that consists of the toys the parents have already purchased.
Berner works well with and without a script as he occasionally breaks the fourth wall and randomly talks to the audience. In one scene, he pretends to be typing as the words appear on a projection screen above him, realizes he has made a typo, and proceeds to cover it up with Wite-Out. Turning to the audience, he says, “Ooh, Wite-Out. You guys remember that?”
Some of the most entertaining scenes in the show occur when Berner switches from the script to improv and interacts with the audience. At one point, he invited attendees to shout out what they wanted for Christmas and received a wild response as the room shook from the loudly proclaimed answers.
The play is irreverent in exploring prejudices in Santaland customers as it delves into a relatively unknown issue of “Santa racism.”
Santaland offers two types of Santas: one with a light complexion and the other with a darker complexion. Crumpet describes how some Caucasian parents request a “white Santa” and some African-American families prefer a “black Santa.” But for some disgruntled customers, a biracial Santa isn’t “black enough.”
In the end, Crumpet discovers the true meaning of Christmas when he describes the kindest Santa actor at Santaland. Instead of asking children what toys they want for Christmas, the older gentleman asks children and parents how much they love each other. The scene is very moving and can bring a few tears to theatregoers who remember heartwarming Santa moments from their own childhood.
The Santaland Diaries is an entertaining show for adults that can take viewers back to childhood Christmases—or at least to some awesome 1990s memories.
The show will be playing at the Revue Stage in Granville Island until December 21. For tickets, call 604-687-1644 or go to www.artsclub.com