The Santaland Diaries | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Santaland Diaries 

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THE SANTALAND DIARIES, Roadworks Productions, at Victory Gardens Theater. Poison mistletoe and toxic ivy bedeck David Sedaris's two commentaries, adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello. Once more purging the Christmas spirit from even the most sentimental concepts, these dramatic monologues fester with yuletide angst, offering a cunning contrast to Geoffrey M. Curley's gaily decorated parlor, an examplar of hard-core cloying decor.

In "Season's Greetings to Our Friends and Family!" a dangerously demure suburban matron recites her annual holiday newsletter, a litany of "ill will toward all" that begins with the arrival of her husband's bastard child from Vietnam. Frighteningly resembling JonBenet's mom, Laura T. Fisher delivers Sedaris's exposé like a letter bomb. Aided by director Shade Murray, Fisher depicts a sanctimonious monster whose phony smile conceals a witch's brew of snobbishness, xenophobia, child abuse, and infanticide.

"The SantaLand Diaries" (loosely based on Gogol's "Diary of a Madman") is more straightforward in its satire. Here a 33-year-old would-be actor is reduced, to his operatic disgust, to a job as a holiday elf ("Crumpet") at Macy's. Directed by Halena Kayes, David Cromer offers a killer deadpan and a delivery dry enough to torch a Christmas tree, testifying to the multifaceted misery of trying to entertain manic Christmas shoppers and their cowed children. Displaying absolute assurance even in the most un-PC diatribes, he works the house into a lather of laughter, turning Sedaris's sardonic look at the dark side of Christmas into some sinister stand-up.

--Lawrence Bommer


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