Pagosa actors tackle Sedaris’ cheeky script

Robin Hebert plays an elf with his own take on Christmas in the Thingamajig Theatre Company’s production of “The Santaland Diaries.” Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Thingamajig Theatre Co.

Robin Hebert plays an elf with his own take on Christmas in the Thingamajig Theatre Company’s production of “The Santaland Diaries.”

Robin Hebert is a bit tall to play an elf, but he has the energy, mischievousness, facial expressions and weird vocal ability to pull off Crumpet. He’s the star elf working at Macy’s Herald Square in Thingamajig Theatre Company’s production of “The Santaland Diaries” at Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts.

Originally written by humorist David Sedaris and read as an essay on NPR for the first time Dec. 23, 1992, the work is an autobiographical confession of a broke, gay, would-be soap opera writer. A diarist, Sedaris worked at Macy’s and his essay was based on vignettes and stories of his experience as a 33-year-old elf. In 1996, director Joe Mantello of “Wicked” fame adapted Sedaris’ essay for the stage as a one-man show. Timothy Olyphant originated the role.

Sedaris’ essay is acerbic and treacly. Mantello’s adaption is foul-mouthed and eccentric. Thingamajig selected the revised version of the play, as it was suggested that Sedaris was not a fan of Mantello’s original adaptation, though it is widely available on the Internet with Sedaris reading the part. The play is boisterous and hilarious. Hebert lunges about the stage, spilling into the audience and engaging play-goers in banter. It’s an entertaining way to spend an evening, especially if one is not cloying about the Christmas holiday and finds the sentimentality over the top, the materialism a bit caustic and the endless drone of the same carols over and over to be like the little drummer boy tapping on the inside of your skull.

Thingamajig brings adult entertainment to the nether reaches of rural Colorado. Audience members squirm a bit in their seats at a simple four-letter word that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in New York. They recommend that the play is not for those younger than 13, but frankly, my children hear worse in the hallways at school. But, be warned, there is raunchy humor early on in this show involving SpongeBob Square Pants and Dora the Explorer but nothing worse than what is readily available on basic cable.

However, for a straight-laced community, some may find it uncomfortable. Audiences during the performance I saw laughed and giggled, but many put on a stern face during intermission and scurried from the theater. Perhaps satire and humor are just not their thing. And they missed a nearly “feel-good” ending.

The original essay and adaptation conclude with this line: “It’s not about the child, or Santa, or Christmas, or anything, but the parents’ idea of a world they cannot make work for their children.” The phrase comes early in this production, and the play ends on what I found to be a falsely sentimental note. Nevertheless, “The SantaLand Diaries,” while a bit inane, are an alternative to the saccharin sweetness of other holiday fare.

Leanne Goebel is a freelance writer. Reach her at artsjournalist@mac.com