Just in time for Christmas, the Crazy Elves troupe ? alias actor David Yen and director Argo Thompson ? offer a respite from holiday overkill.
Their no-frills, storefront production of ?Santaland Diaries,? a biting satire on the commercialization of Christmas, provides a refreshing antidote to sugarplum poisoning.
There?s nothing like the hilarious true confessions of a former Santa?s helper recalling his days at a major department store to ease the stress of seasonal shopping.
Yen, starring as the smirking Crumpet the Elf, strikes just the right balance between cynicism and sentiment in the current downtown run of this comic and often bittersweet one-man show.
Clad in ridiculous candy-striped leggings and an aggressively green tunic, Yen recounts anticipating a ?fluffy wonderland,? but instead encountering endless bureaucracy, behind-the-scenes conflict and a hostile public. Even the little kids have issues.
Offered a multiracial range of St. Nicks to choose from, one mother ? apparently under the impression that she?s being discreet ? softly suggests that her family would rather not have a ?chocolate Santa? this year.
An exceptionally cute elf named Snowball prompts a round of rather competitive gay flirting among the seasonal hires.
And a visit from a group of severely disabled children points out the painfully problematic etiquette of asking a tragically disfigured kid what he wants for Christmas.
Part of what makes the show so compelling is that it?s based on fact.
When writer David Sedaris first arrived in New York City some 15 years ago, hoping for a dramatic role on a daytime TV soap opera, he soon found himself desperate for any job he could get.
He chose working as an elf in the Manhattan Macy?s Santaland to avoid the only alternative ? seasonal sidewalk promotions. (?It breaks my heart to see a grown man dressed as a taco,? Sedaris later wrote.)
?Santaland Diaries,? the author?s comic memoir of his stint as an elf, aired in 1992 on National Public Radio, and was later adapted as a one-man stage show by Joe Mantello.
Three years ago, while working at Santa Rosa?s 6th Street Playhouse as artistic director, Thompson staged an ensemble version of the show, starring Yen and two other actors.
The one-man version is superior. It?s direct, intimate and borders on exceptional stand-up comedy. Yen makes the most of it, changing dialects and adapting his body language almost constantly, as he mimics the characters that Sedaris encounters ? at least a dozen or two.
Yen?s only prop is a thermal coffee cup with candy cane stripes, which he sips from repeatedly, possibly for dramatic affect and possibly because doing all of those voices can really rip up a performer?s throat.
The set consists of a nearly bare stage with a Christmas ribbon backdrop and an overstuffed armchair. Yen rarely sits in the chair, but he does shove it from place to place on the stage every now and then.
This chair-shifting tactic may be meant simply to break up the monologue, or perhaps it?s designed to give the audiences on all sides of the stage a chance to see the actor from the front.
Since the entire audience in the Santa Rosa Art District?s temporary Phantom Gallery, formerly a carpet store, sits within a few yards of the floor-level stage, it hardly seems necessary to move the furniture at all.