It's December, which means malls across the nation are transforming into the North Pole. Fake trees covered in red and green bulbs are springing up from display racks and imitation snow being spread over every inch of linoleum. At the helm of each of these mock North Poles are thousands of Santas, sitting at their throwns, surrounded by velvet ropes, reining over their light-covered kingdoms (between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm).
A visit to SantaLand is a coveted memory for many children, a magical place where a jolly bearded man promises them gifts on Christmas Day. What kids might not remember is a bunch of grown men and women dressed as Santa's helpers being paid minimum wage to paint smiles on their faces and say things like, "Merry Christmas! Right this way to the photo booth. Pictures with Santa just $19.99."
"SantaLand Diaries" is the story of one such hired elf, a particularly sarcastic one, working a holiday season in the sparkling fake-snow tundra of the SantaLand at the Macy's Department Store in Herald Square. Based on a short story by David Sedaris, humorist, chain smoker, author of "Me Talk Pretty One Day," and a frequent contributor to "This American Life," the stage reading recounts his own experience as a mall elf. More hilarious than heartwarming and more crass than politically correct, the one-man-show is an outrageously cynical take on the commercialization of Christmas, complete with Sedaris' deadpan prose.
Derek Sitter, owner of Volcanic Theatre Pub and accomplished actor, is fiery as Crumpet the elf, the self-deprecating narrator who retells stories of long lines to see Santa, screaming children and overbearing parents. Sitter surrenders some of his dignity for the cause of hilarity, performing in a full-blown elf costume with an accompanying slideshow that graphically and crassly illustrates the political incorrectness of Sedaris' writing. As Sitter delivers his lines, he is sometimes standing in front of a 16-foot-tall photograph of a vomiting child or a pile of dirty diapers. He describes his rendition of SantaLand Diaries as a TedTalk in a psychiatric ward.
Sitter's approach is vastly different from the catatonic delivery that Sedaris made famous when he debuted the story on the NPR show, "Morning Edition," in 1992. Sitter's performance is highly animated and he insists on Crumpet having a character arc. Sitter also has peppered the script with additional cursing and a hard-learned, emotional lesson about the holidays at the close.
"The character arc is apparent in the script," explained Sitter. "I've seen this play done as a standup comedy routine. I'm going the other way."
A screening of the overtly offensive Billy Bob Thornton Christmas flick, "Bad Santa," will follow the raunchy and wildly entertaining performances.
Friday Dec. 7, Thursday-Saturday Dec. 12-14 and 19-21
Volcanic Theatre Pub, 70 SW Century Dr.