Hell is being an elf: Actor Craig Bentley dishes the dirt on SantaLand.
Hell is being an elf: Actor Craig Bentley dishes the dirt on SantaLand.
courtesy of Scottsdale Center for the Arts

Talk Shop

You knew it was on its way even before Halloween merchandise hit the clearance shelves: Christmas. You noticed the sudden transformation from orange-and-black to red-and-green color schemes in stores, the subtle but inescapable sounds of carols and sleigh bells, the tinsel at every turn. And you wondered if someone forgot about Thanksgiving. Isn't it funny how holiday spirit is wrapped up in commercialism?

Daniel Kells, executive producer of the first touring stage production of The SantaLand Diaries, gets a kick out of Yuletide shopping hype. "Our office looks out on to a billboard that says, Spending is the new saving.' Hello! And at Filene's, a department store up here, the bags say, Love is giving.' Come on! There's a million things that are ripe for shredding with this holiday," he says.

In the case of The SantaLand Diaries, the butt of so many jokes is Macy's SantaLand as experienced by author and NPR contributor David Sedaris, who worked two Christmas seasons in the department store's crowded Herald Square location and lived to write about it. When Sedaris' deadpan reading of the hilarious true tale made its debut on NPR's "Morning Edition" in the early '90s, it became one of the most popular broadcasts in the history of the show.


The SantaLand Diaries

Scottsdale Center for the Arts, 7380 East Second Street in Scottsdale

Opens at 8 p.m. Friday, November 29, with performances through December 1. Tickets are $40; call 480-994-ARTS (2787).

"I am a 33-year-old man applying for a job as an elf," writes Sedaris. He describes his off-the-wall experiences as a seasonal employee with one part fascination and one part masochism, from elf training and the humiliation of wearing a green velvet costume to the details of people's bad behavior -- "fistfights, vomiting and magnificent tantrums."

The stage version of The SantaLand Diaries, adapted by Joe Montello, started out as an off-Broadway production and was later picked up by various theaters around the country. In Boston, Kells was involved in making the show a local tradition before taking it on the road this year with actor Craig Bentley, who single-handedly cracks up audiences with the incredible monologue.

Kells says it's easy to laugh at the character of David (who, forced to choose an elf name, also goes by Crumpet). "He's sort of like that cousin of yours who's an out-of-work actor trying to make it in New York," says Kells. "You feel sorry for him but have to laugh at all the bad things that happen to him."

David gets pushed around by all kinds of characters -- snide parents, whiny brats, uppity co-workers -- while faking cheerfulness. But sometimes he takes matters into his own hands, mischievously alerting visitors to false celebrity sightings (or real ones that are supposed to be hush-hush). At one point, a woman grabs David to have him tell her bad kid that if he doesn't behave, Santa will bring him coal instead of toys. Sedaris explains, "I said that Santa no longer traffics in coal. Instead, if you're bad he comes to your house and steals things."

Heaven forbid, Santa as a thief? Just imagine -- that would give us even more reason to go shopping.


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