Flashpoint Theatre Company brings back its signature show for the holidays, THE SANTALAND DIARIES, for a ten-performance pre-Christmas run. Based on David Sedaris’s true autobiographical essay on his stint as a department store elf (adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello in 1996), Flashpoint’s eleventh annual production, directed by SANTALAND veteran Matt Pfeiffer, features Keith Conallen reprising his role as Crumpet, Sedaris’s acerbic but ultimately lovable Santa’s Helper. It’s the perfect pairing to put both the “Bah, humbug!” and the magic into your Yuletide, and a hilarious alternative to the usual family-friendly Christmas fare.
The delightfully impish Conallen portrays the cynical out-of-work actor who takes a temp job at Macy’s during the hectic shopping season. His holiday spirits are in the dumps, and he expresses his obvious contempt for his short-term employment through irreverent sarcasm and spot-on anecdotes about obnoxious customers, overwhelmed kids, and overly enthusiastic co-workers–“so animated and relentlessly cheerful” that there are “exclamation points after each sentence!!!” Presented as a direct-address first-person monologue, the 70-minute one-act show traces Sedaris’s journey from his job application, interviews, and training (in his everyday street clothes) to his dress rehearsal and on-the-job experiences as Crumpet (in a sidesplitting elf’s costume designed by Regina Rizzo, with curly-toed shoes, red-and-white striped leggings, yellow turtleneck, green velvet smock, and a Santa’s hat with his name written across the band).
Under Pfeiffer’s perfectly timed direction, Conallen’s delivery becomes increasingly animated, as he starts “losing it” from all the “forced merriment” and obligatory false compliments. With just a sparse set (a red chair with bows, a decorated Christmas tree, and boxes of wrapped presents), focused Christmas-color lighting (both designed by Thom Weaver), and a selection of popular Christmas tunes (sound by Christopher Colucci) to lend support, Conallen’s tour-de-force performance embodies all the real-life characters Sedaris encountered and the emotions he felt with uproarious facial expressions, clear body language, and changing speech patterns (his Valley Girl patois is especially funny).
Because of Crumpet’s bad attitude and occasional foul language, this is not a show for kids, and only adults of a certain age will get some of the early ‘90s references to One Life to Live, Cher, and the Ninja Turtles. But despite his break-time flask swigging and smart-mouthed observations about rampant consumerism and the staged photo-ops demanded by ill-tempered parents, in the end even the most caustic of elves can’t resist having his heart warmed by the true spirit of Christmas. If that’s not enough of a treat, tickets to the 10 pm shows on 12/12-13 come with a free can of PBR. Surely Crumpet would approve of that kind of holiday cheer. [Off-Broad Street Theater, 1636 Sansom St.] December 10-21, 2014; flashpointtheatre.org.