‘santaland diaries’

ArtsWatch Weekly: all that glitters, all that glows

A holiday compendium: in dark times, a triumph of artistic light

I read the news today, oh boy. It’s a compulsion begun in childhood with the sports and comics pages of broadsheet newspapers (Duke Snider! Alley Oop!) and expanded, as I grew older, into the full range of world events and a long career inside the sausage factory of the newsgathering game. Rarely has the news looked more bleak or fragile than it does today: who knows where that latest piece of Internet-amplified information came from, or whether it was invented by fierce partisans out of outsourced whole cloth, without a whiff of objectivity or credibility? Truth becomes the loudest voice; the loudest voice becomes the truth. Oh boy, indeed.

Miya Zolkoske and Andrea Whittle (foreground) with ensemble in "A Civil War Christmas." Photo: Owen Carey

Miya Zolkoske and Andrea Whittle (foreground) with ensemble in “A Civil War Christmas.” Photo: Owen Carey

Hardly a time, it would seem, for visions of sugarplums. And yet, as the holidays roar into their inescapable month of triumph (if there’s a “war on Christmas,” its battlefields seem to be in places like Walmart and Macy’s and Amazon) I find myself, once again, comforted by the beauty and ritual of the season’s quiet core. At our house we have our own holiday rituals, including a strict paternal ban on pulling out the Christmas CDs before Thanksgiving, a ruling that is regularly and gleefully broken by the better natures of the household, who know a sucker when they see one. Lately, having once again acquiesced to the inevitable, I’ve been listening to an old favorite, “Christmas in Eastern Europe,” from the Bucharest Madrigal Choir.

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Santaland Diaries: A modest, well-rounded Crumpet

Sedaris’s one-man play leaves its elf a lot of leeway. How does Darius Pierce play it?

Darius Pierce as Crumpet in ‘Santaland Diaries’ at Portland Center Stage/ Patrick Weishampel

By AL ADAMS

David Sedaris’s “Santaland Diaries” (both the play and the essay) are surely best recognized as a cynic’s take on Christmas tradition. A thirtysomething man with dashed entertainment-industry dreams, Sedaris uses his day job as a Macy’s Christmas elf to launch a grand expansion both of his career and of the “there is no Santa Claus” revelation: Not only is there no Santa Claus, but there are no elves. Yes, Virginia, “elves” are actually seasonal day-laborers consigned to clean up child vomit, withstand humiliating training regimens, and perpetuate the lie for not one but several idiosyncratic fake Santas. Merry Humbug. Ho ho ho.

Mercifully, though, there are a few more facets to this story: It’s also the tale of an intelligent person humbled by a brutal job market. It’s an unmasking of retail disingenuousness. It’s a kinky cosplay sexualization of erstwhile-presumed-asexual creatures (elves, Santa, customer servants). And—if you want it to be—it’s a reluctant admission that wonder, beauty and optimism repeatedly (if briefly) overturn our more jaded presumptions.

With its multiplicity of narratives, the script becomes as flexible as taffy in the hands of its elfin elocutioner, Crumpet. And the star of this year’s production at Portland Center Stage, Darius Pierce (who’s spent prior seasons narrating another PCS holiday play, “A Christmas Story”), jingled in on the heels of two distinct predecessors.

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