STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
Santa’s got those naughty and nice lists. If you’re on the former, you might enjoy Theatre Horizon’s holiday offering more than the nice kids. The theater’s holiday treat is “The Santaland Diaries,” written by David Sedaris and adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello.
It’s an off-beat Christmas story about Sedaris’ experiences playing Crumpet the elf at Macy’s in New York City. The original essay launched Sedaris’ career in 1992 (he has gone on to write many humorous books of essays, including “Naked” and “Me Talk Pretty One Day”).
“Santaland” looks irreverently, of course, at elf training, bad Santas, abusive customers and “the many humiliations of our consumerized Christmas culture,” according to the theater’s website.
Keith Conallen, of South Philadelphia, stars as Crumpet, bringing the essay that established Sedaris as one of America’s preeminent humorists to life in a one-man, one-act play. This is his fourth time donning Crumpet’s persona — he performed the show three times at Flashpoint Theatre Company and now brings it to Theatre Horizon.
“It’s a sarcastic look at the idea of Christmas in terms of materialism and the big mall culture,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’s basically about a guy who takes a job because he needs a job and has all these experiences that teach him lessons about what humanity is really like in these times of materialism.”
Conallen said that Crumpet is highly flawed, but that’s not all he is.
“He’s got a ‘holier than thou’ type of attitude,” he said. “But he also talks about the families he encounters, the racism he sees with families wanting a white or black Santa. It opens it up to truth out there in terms of the state of our world.”
And just as it is whenever he performs (he’s been acting for 20 years), it’s fun to try on different hats and explore others’ experiences.
“I do get to learn a lot about the world and humanity,” Conallen said.
Conallen was a Sedaris fan prior to slipping into Crumpet’s costume, so that makes it even more fun and rewarding.
“He’s smart and honest,” Conallen said. “There’s an element of him in all of his work that rings true. It’s his feelings and thoughts that connect him to people.”
Conallen connects with Crumpet in that he, too, dislikes “the ridiculousness in which I look at long lines for shopping and Black Friday,” he said.
But he doesn’t share the elf’s bah humbug holiday attitude. In fact, Conallen is Crumpet’s complete opposite.
“I love Christmas,” he said. “I’m in the middle of decorating my house. I can’t wait to get my tree. Christmas is my favorite time of year.”
Conallen hopes that people will see “Santaland” and discover if Crumpet finds joy in the holiday season, too, by the end of the show. No matter what happens, he’ll have a good holiday — playing a favorite role during the happiest time of his year.