Sunday, December 2, 2012

Santaland Diaries, PlayhouseSquare

 Yep, every adult’s favorite elf named Crumpet is back again in this David Sedaris vehicle. Santaland Diaries is a holiday cartful of cynical laughs that has become as reliable a part of the season as Santa himself.

This time there’s a new actor, Allan Byrne, starring in this Cleveland Public Theatre production, staged at the Playhouse Square 14th Street Theatre. And while the balding, satchel-eyed Bryne brings much-appreciated maturity and layers of neurotic baggage to the part, the one-person show lurches a bit fitfully under the direction of Eric Schmiedl.

Written originally by the humorist Sedaris when he was 33, the role has been played by actors of many different ages. And that is one good reason to change the age of the person in the script—especially these days when so many people in their 40s, 50s and older are forced to pick up demeaning jobs just to pay the bills.

Bryne doesn’t look like he’s in his early 30s, and that’s a good thing. Slumped over and a bit defeated, he fits this irreverent character in every other way possible.

And he definitely has some high points in his performance. His explication of “Santa Santa,” the weirdly committed Santa actor at Macy’s, is hilarious. As is Bryne’s fractured rendition of Billie Holiday singing “Away in a Manger.” It’s just a shame it’s over so soon.

In other ways, director Schmiedl doesn’t give Bryne the help he needs. At the start, Bryne never really connects with the audience, so we are left trying to catch up to him as he takes his journey through the nasty bowels of Santaland. And many of the vignettes run together too much, without the necessary clarity when introducing new characters in the story.

Both actor and director could take more chances with this intriguing version of Crumpet, and find even more poignant resonance when the narrator comes to discover some Christmas magic himself.

Santaland Diaries
Through December 22 at PlayhouseSquare, 14th Street Theatre, 216-241-6000

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