Friday, December 12, 2014

The Santaland Diaries—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District



An Elfin Epiphany

This one-man, adult comedy is written by David Sedaris and directed by Wendy Knox.  It is playing at the PCS space at 128 NW 11th Ave. through December 28th.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org or call 503-445-3700.

Sedaris is a well-known comedy writer and performer.  This monologue is based on his real-life experience as a Christmas elf at Macy’s in NYC.  It is sardonic, irreverent and pulls no punches in revealing the underbelly of the commercialism of Christmas.  He also attacks the masks that the employees must wear in portraying the magical beings of Christmas.  And he re-counts many of the foibles and follies of parents and kids at this festive time of year.

I can vouch for many of the encounters he relates as I, myself, was a dept. store Santa on a few occasions (as well as the Easter Bunny at one time).  But more about my experiences later.  His insights are really spot on and his humor infectious.  I would think that many people shouldn’t be surprised that the Spirit of Christmas, The Spirit of Giving, should really be labeled, the Spirit of Getting.  

And the department stores at this time of year seem more interested in having you spend money at their establishment, getting the kids through to Santa as quickly as possible and buying photos of your “little darlings” with the bearded one, than in truly giving the young a memorable, magical, childhood experience with the iconic figurehead of the Season (not to mention that the true reason for the season is Christmas, who gets lost in the shuffle somewhere).

Darius Pierce is a perfect voice for Sedaris, aka, Crumpet, the Elf.  Not only has he played the role a few times before but he creates a natural delivery of a man, down on his luck, unemployed, hoping to find some solace in joining what he would envision, as the ideal job for picking up his spirits and giving him a more positive attitude toward life.  Instead, he discovers, not the magical world of Christmas, but a view of the seedy side of the commercial world, more in league with Satan (as he mentions) than Santa.

In all fairness, the parents and employees he talks about are just very human, but shouldn’t a child be given a view of a magical, positive experience at this time of year, so they can hold on to their innocence just a little while longer?!  The more good we give, the more good we feel, perhaps.  But in Crumpet’s world, there are those creatures of Santaland that frighten children, parents that exploit them, and an atmosphere that all but ignores them.

Crumpet recounts the Santa’s that pictured themselves as slave masters, those that ran on automatic pilot, and the one who actually cared and talked with the child.  He demonstrates the methods they use to propel the children through the mazes, like cattle, and the Elfin guide to proper behavior for being “Santa’s little helper.”  Also relaying what goes on in the mind of such a being when enduring the insults, bad behavior, illness and dealing the prejudices and difference in people.

Pierce’s expressions, gestures and voice interpretations are in sync with the stories he tells and very funny.  He also does not overact, which would be easy to do in this part, but shows us an insightful and just very frustrated human being, who really wants to do the right thing.  I could imagine John Goodman or Bob Newhart doing such a part, as they have the added dimension, as does Pierce, of not only being humorous but also very human, in the parts they enact.  Knox has done a good job of keep some variety in the hour, plus expose to us, with lots of bits of business, as well as a fascinating set for the show and costume for Pierce (Designer, Jessica Ford), the world of Sedaris.  All should get special presents in their Christmas stockings for this!

And now a few insights from yours truly, as to playing the gentle, old man.  I do agree with Sedaris as to the push in commercialism in selling products and photos.  As for a couple stories from me, there was one time back East when playing Santa, the producers of the event were sellers of Snowmobiles, so there were many photo opts with me, driving one to the mall.  The fact that there wasn’t any snow at that time, didn’t deter them, as they imported some manufactured snow for the arrival.  Also they never checked with me as to if I had driven this machine.  I hadn’t and managed to run into just about everything not nailed down before I got the hang of it.

Another time a boy came up to me as I was walking to my chair and said that his parents said not to believe in me, as he was Jewish.  I told him that was alright, as I believed in him.  He just smiled, shook my hand, and went on his way.  Another’s child’s wish was not for toys but that her estranged parents would get back together.  And another wished that her grandfather would get well and not die from a Cancer.  Also, the most common reply to the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”  The answer, a Veterinarian.  Who would have thought that?  The important thing, I think, for a child, is to allow them as much time as you can to explore that elusive, wonderful world of innocence we call Childhood and extend to them the privilege of believing in the Magic and Blessings of the Season!  Who knows, maybe it will rub off on us, as adults, too.

I recommend this show but it is adult in nature.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.