I still remember the first time I heard the caustic wit of David Sedaris as he performed his “The Santaland Diaries” monologue on NPR’s “This American Life.” I was gobsmacked. This snarky, irreverent essay quickly became a holiday staple in our house, revered as much as our other annual, if slightly less irreverent, family favorite, “A Christmas Story.”
Still, I had never seen the wickedly funny monologue on stage until this week when I headed to the Goodman’s Owen Theatre to spend an hour with Steven Strafford as the not-always-lovable elf named Crumpet.
If you have been living under a rock and have never heard the tale of “The Santaland Diaries,” it is the now-29-year-old story of Sedaris’ time as a Christmas elf at Macy’s flagship New York store.
The biographical story features a 30-something struggling actor, new to the Big Apple and surprised to find that the producers of his favorite soap opera aren’t breaking down his door to hire him for a juicy part. Nearly broke, he reluctantly applies for a job as a Christmas elf.
The story proceeds through the humiliating week-long elf training, the even more humiliating costume, and then, the run-ins with Macy’s customers, more than a few of whom threatened to have him fired.
It ends only when the job does – as the store is closing on Christmas Eve.
I must admit I was more than a little disappointed when Strafford walked out on stage wearing a pair of brown pants and a slightly ratty blue and brown plaid shirt. It is exactly the sort of uniform a struggling unemployed actor might be wearing, but it wasn’t the Crumpet the Elf get-up I was expecting.
Fortunately, it was only about 15 minutes into the evening when he changed right on stage – dropping his brown pants to reveal candy-cane-striped leggings – and narrating each humiliating stage of his transformation into Crumpet.
Strafford did an admirable job of delivering the well-known prose to a highly appreciative audience, including one slightly drunk woman who absolutely guffawed at everything he said.
Much more impressive than his delivery of the words, however, was his hugely expressive face. He switched easily – and so quickly – between the sugary sweet Crumpet and the overly irritated actor who still couldn’t quite believe he had fallen so far.
If you go, arrive early and a take selfie in front of the Santaland Diaries sign – the Goodman has conveniently left a table full of cardboard top hats, candy cane glasses and other Instagram-worthy props.
“The Santaland Diaries” is in the Goodman’s Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, through Dec. 29, 2019. Running time: 70 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information, call 312-443-3800 or visit Goodman Theatre/Santaland.
For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago