By Albert H. Fulcher
“The Santaland Diaries,” a play adapted from a David Sedaris essay by Joe Mantello, is an exploration of a true story of a time Sedaris spent as an elf in Santaland at Macy’s. Sedaris explored this crazy experience with all of Christmas’ magic and insanity, said Diversionary Theatre’s producing associate and director Anthony Methvin.
Methvin said there’s no better place for this evaluation than at Santaland, which is kind of the center of the Christmas universe, where the classic “Miracle on 34th Street” took place.
“He [Sedaris] was in the eye of the storm,” said Methvin. “It gave him a really unique perspective from his time there. I think also that it is exciting to me that Sedaris, who I think is one of our greatest modern queer voices, is finally finding a home here on the Diversionary stage. Especially for a queer audience, there are resonances as a member of the LGBTQ community and the tenuous moments of what the holidays are with familial relationships.”
Methvin said because Sedaris is writing from a queer perspective, exploring that is a great way to give a gift to the Diversionary audience
“We can gather with our own chosen family, our real families, our allies and be in a space where we can share this story that is really queer and incredibly universal,” Methvin said. “We can laugh at Christmas, fall in love with Christmas, and sometimes do both things in the same breath. It feels like a Christmas homecoming, which is really awesome.”
Directing “The Santaland Diaries” has been a wonderful process, said Methvin.
“Sedaris is a genius with a very dry wit and a unique perspective on the world,” Methvin said. “What’s been fun in that framework is uncovering some of the magic as much as it is centered on the kind of insanity of the Christmas holiday. It’s been fun to explore what that kind of traditionally Christmas magic or that peppermint heart at the center is. It’s been really surprising and challenging in the best of ways.”
Headlining the one-man show, Wil Bethmann (Crumpet) said that as soon as he read the script, he immediately decided that he would get the part. He said the fact that Sedaris has the capacity to laugh at himself and tries his hardest to be a good person in spite of his circumstance is what drew him to the character.
“Working as a department store elf is not what David wants to be doing,” Bethmann said. “He’s able to find humor in his surroundings instead of being beaten down by them, while providing biting commentary that audiences can laugh at and learn from as they head into the holiday season. Christmas can bring out the worst in people as David sees but he is able to remain sympathetic. These are all families trying their best to navigate their lives during the Christmas season. Just like he is.”
Bethmann said the play is relevant today with some unexpected twists, but that there is a reason “The Santaland Diaries” still has the fan base that it does.
“The holiday season and the insanity it brings into all of our lives is universally understood,” Bethmann said. “The beautiful parts and the ugly parts rear their heads and you get to sit back with a cocktail and watch one smart elf take them on.”
The show is accompanied by a rarely produced companion piece. It is a shorter play with Linda Libby performing Mrs. Dunbar in “Season’s Greetings.” This will accompany “The Santaland Diaries” on most nights. It’s [written] in the form of Christmas letters people receive at the end of every year to catch them up on all the things that are going on.
“This has been a really explosive year for Mrs. Dunbar,” Methvin said. “‘Season’s Greetings’ is a little more on the dark and edgy side for part of the evening, held downstairs.”
“We are trying to give people more of an experiential evening,” Methvin continued. “If you come in early, like any good boy or girl or folk that are in between, you will have the opportunity to come up and get a taste of the Santaland experience, have the opportunity to have your picture taken with Santa. ‘The Santaland Diaries’ is an hour long, and after the play you can watch ‘Season’s Greetings.’”
“The Santaland Diaries” runs Nov. 21-Dec. 22. Visit diversionary.org for showtimes and ticket information.