Review: 'The Santaland Diaries' at the Shubert Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

“I had two people say that to me today: I'm going to have you fired. Go ahead, be my guest. I'm wearing a green velvet costume. It doesn't get any worse than this.” - Crumpet in ‘The Santaland Diaries’

New Haven, CT - ‘The Santaland Diaries’ by David Sedaris and adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello opened at the XFINITY Lounge at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven last night. It features the amazing talent of Ian Galligan in the role of the jaded Santaland elf at Macy’s in NYC. The show continues on the snug black box stage at the Shubert through Nov. 27, but then will go out on a mini-tour of Connecticut through Dec. 11. 

I had heard good things about the Castle Craig Players’ production that ran last year at the Almira F. Stephan Memorial Playhouse in Meriden, but I just could not fit it into my holiday schedule. This incarnation is based upon the CCP show and is once again ably directed by Melanie del Sol, who co-founded that venue with her father in 1992. 

David Sedaris is one of America’s pre-eminent humor writers. He is the author of Barrel Fever,  Holidays on Ice, and his most recent bestselling book Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. In his works, he slices through cultural euphemisms and political correctness, making him a master of satire. ‘The Santaland Diaries’ is a humorous, slightly fictionalized account of Mr. Sedaris' stint working as a Christmas elf in the iconic Santaland at Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square. Adapter Joe Mantello has directed ‘Dogfight,’ ‘Wicked,’ ‘A Man of No Importance’ and is slated to direct ‘Bunuel,’ the working title of the forthcoming new musical by Stephen Sondheim. 

Because I was familiar with the press photos of the character of Crumpet catching him in some less-than-traditional elf-like behavior, I thought that this piece would be funny but perhaps a bit dark. What I discovered was that these diaries chronicle the very comical experience of an out-of-work actor working with various department store Santas and the customers who wait in hour-long lines for a chance to sit on his fabled lap. It is a very funny countdown to Christmas seen through Crumpet’s jaded eyes that is both witty and endearing. 

I have seen Mr. Galligan as Princeton/Rod in ‘Avenue Q,’ as Bud Frump in ‘How to Succeed,’ and Charlie Brown in ‘You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown’ but I don’t think his typical onstage charm colored the endearing quality that I saw in his Crumpet. There was plenty of biting wit that he brought to the role and his animated face said so much with just a look. He had to change into his elf costume onstage without dislodging his body mic, but that was a most memorable scene. 

This talented actor holds a degree in Directing and Performing Arts Management from Pace University and currently works at New Haven’s historic Shubert Theare. At times in this one-man show, he played one of the Santas, disgruntled department store shoppers, fellow employees and even Katharine Hepburn. The audience was with him throughout every transition of the ninety minutes and we laughed as his anxiety grew as he hurdled toward Dec. 25.  

Since ‘The Santaland Diaries’ was originally produced in NYC back in 1996 , there are a few pop culture references that dated the piece a bit, most notably to ABC soap operas that no longer run. However, I loved the parts where this young actor dreams to appearing on ‘One Life to Live’ and I knew well every one of the characters he mentioned. The woman in the next seat joined me in nodding our heads when Crumpet asked if we remembered a particular OLTL storyline, because in fact we did. 

The green velvet elf costume with white fur trim and striped stockings was designed and constructed by Daniel Schmidt. It was the right mixture of elfin cute and embarrassing for the wearer, and the sparkly green snowflakes caught the stage lights nicely. Adam Plumley served as technical director and the set was an amalgamation of lots of Santa’s Village cliches. The famous leg lamp was there and there were directional signs for 34th Street, Bedford Falls, Whoville; you get the idea. 

This was the first time that I had attended a performance at the Shubert as a reviewer and I hope to be invited back soon. There is general seating at the XFINITY lounge and it was very tight for this sold-out opening night. There was a lovely reception before the doors opened and patrons were all in a very festive mood for Black Friday.

The show is recommended for “mature elves only” (ages 14 and up) due to strong language and references. The XFINITY Lounge at the Shubert Theatre is located at 247 College Street in New Haven. Crumpet then moves to Collinsville at the Farmington Valley Stage Company, 4 Market Street for Dec. 2 - 4. Then he returns to his Castle Craig home in Meriden Dec. 8 - 11. I highly recommend catching a performance at one of the upcoming venues for a night a laughs that will put you in the Christmas spirit. 

Pictured: Ian Galligan as Crumpet in 'The Santaland Diaries'