The Santaland Diaries
A Blunt-Speaking Elf
By David Sedaris
American Shakespeare Center, Blackfriars Playhouse, Staunton, Va.
Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010, C–4&6 (center stalls)
Directed by Jim Warren
Even though The Santaland Diaries has entered the status of annual Christmas tradition around the country, this is the first time we had seen the monologue. After past successful runs with other actors in the part, ASC turned the elf tights over to Rick Blunt this year.
The great quality that Blunt brought to the stage was his pleasure of being there. He is a born performer, a modern-day Will Kemp, and that natural gregariousness had him carrying on more of a conversation with the audience than performing a monologue. The only problem is that Blunt just seems too nice a guy to be the somewhat sour cynic describing his work as a North Pole helper in Macy's Santaland. I think that Blunt would rather enjoy being an elf.
The reason Diaries is becoming a seasonal theatrical tradition is because of the witty and insightful quality of the script while the unexpected twist that comes with the last Santa to occupy the seat on Christmas Eve penetrates to the heart of the holiday. Making that moment penetrate the heart of the audience is where Blunt's particular talent paid off.
December 28, 2010
Rick Blunt as Crumpet in Santaland Diaries. Photo by Michael Bailey, American Shakespeare Center.
Thursday, December 1, 2011, D–3&4 (center stalls)
Last year, my takeaway from this show was how good a writer David Sedaris is in his autobiographical account of working as an elf at Macy’s Santaland. This year my take-away was Crumpet the elf himself and how much Rick Blunt’s acting has matured in the intervening year.
Taking on this one-man-show for the second straight year as part of ASC’s annual holiday fare, Blunt did more than merely reprise the part he played successfully last year. He is now more Crumpet than Blunt, fully investing the cynical elf with inner bitterness toward his state and outward disgust at the state of Christmas commerce. In his interactions with customers, Santas, and other elves, Blunt's Crumpet took us inside the hellish Santaland, allowing us to feel and not just hear the underside of the Christmas spirit. And in that truth he allowed the real spirit of Christmas, represented in the penultimate scene, to seep through so effectively I heard sniffles and “ohhs” in the audience.
As Crumpet interacted with other characters in his story, Blunt interacted with the audience in the intimate, lights-always-on Blackfriars Playhouse. Part of the show’s fun was watching Blunt working audience responses into his performance and, just as importantly, skipping over audience-generated potholes before they became rabbit holes—i.e., people who think they have been given license to recast the play with themselves as stars.
This was craft and art: Blunt the player played the room, Crumpet the elf took us to Santaland, and we the audience laughed, tensed, sniffed back tears, and cheered.
December 8, 2011