Theatre Review: ‘Santaland Diaries’ at Horizon Theatre

santaland_diaries_horizon_theatre4_-_elf_trio_martiniBy Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

Horizon Theatre’s production of humorist David Sedaris’ “Santaland Diaries” may well become Atlanta’s holiday version of “The Fantasticks,” running forever, and it would do so with my blessing. 

This is the 17th year that actor Harold M. Leaver dons his gay apparel as Crumpet, the New York City Macy’s iconic, sardonic, fun-loving elf. In December 1992, Sedaris first read his essay on NPR; it was later lengthened a bit and published in his book “Holidays on Ice.” The first staged production of the show was adapted and directed by Joe Mantello in 1996.

Sedaris, of course, has become one of the country’s top humorists, with several books and an international fan base. The story is based on his own real-life experience as a Macy’s elf, before he became big-time. Perhaps I should mention that the Horizon’s “Santaland” tends to sell out so be sure to get your tickets in advance online, at the website listed below. This year, the show runs through Dec. 31.

As far as I’m concerned, Horizon’s version, directed by Jeff Adler, is the official one, and I’ll bet Mr. Sedaris would agree with me. The character of Crumpet has long since been absorbed in Harold Leaver’s consciousness, and he cannot make a false move or gesture, utter a word or raise his eyebrows without being totally in character. Most important, he has not lost any of his sense of fun or sly merriment.

Now, in case you’re a “Santaland” virgin, be advised that this is a show for adults; Elf Crumpet minces no words as he comments on himself, his job, his loony co-workers, and especially the holiday-crazed grown-ups, grimly determined that their children will meet Santa, put in their order, and have a glowing experience. And they are ready to move hades or earth to see that this joy happens, damn it!

Crumpet is not alone; he has two sidekicks, brilliantly played by Lala Cochran and Enoch King. There are elf apprentices: Nick Suwalski and Jasmine Thomas. Ms. Cochran and Mr. King must play around 25 characters each; I lost count.

Oh yes, the show is up to date and topical: We now have cell phones and mentions of “Kanye for President”; you’re just never sure what’s coming up, even if you’ve seen the show before, as have legions of its fans. One gentleman told me after the show (performed in 95 minutes, no intermission) that he’d seen it nine times. This is not unusual.

There is a delicious improvisational feel to “Santaland”; in large part because Crumpet involves audience members in the proceedings. Usually “audience participation” does not work well for me in theatre, but here it’s flawless and necessary. Now you can’t be a fuddy-duddy about this or you’ll miss the fun. A highlight of the evening for me came when Leaver saw an attractive couple, winked at the young man (Matt) and asked him where he lived. “Decatur,” said Matt. Quick as a flash Crumpet/Leaver said, “That’s funny; you don’t look like a lesbian.” The audience was in hysterics.

Let’s see, Elf Crumpet smokes a little grass (“Look, if you had to wear this outfit and do what I do, you would too”) and is generally as devil-may-care as can be; and he’s irresistible. These actors make it all look very easy, and they will show you a good time.

See “The Santaland Diaries” before you OD on sugary holiday confections, theatrical or otherwise. The Horizon’s intimate space is perfect for this show, with a colorful set by Isabel and Moriah Curly-Clay.

For tickets and information, visit horizontheatre.com

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