Saturday, December 9, 2017

Set's the best thing about 'Santaland Diaries'

Max Tachis as an elf in David Sedaris's "The Santaland Diaries." (Kevin Berne photo)
Filing into the theater, the audience sees a delicious set that holds great promise for TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s production of “The Santaland Diaries.”

Designer Christopher Fitzer’s confection is a virtual throne of candy canes and gingerbread beneath a sign declaring “Welcome to Santaland.” Behind it is an array of Christmas trees with little white lights.

It’s all quite inviting. In fact, a sign in the lobby says that because of new union rules regarding copyrights, audience members may take photos before and after the show, and quite a few did at the opening. No photography or recording is allowed during the show.

This one-man show, written by David Sedaris and adapted by Joe Mantello, details his experiences as a 33-year-old would-be actor who becomes a cynical Santa’s elf at Macy’s in New York City in the early ‘90s. TheatreWorks promotes it for mature audiences because it’s definitely not kiddie fare.

It features Max Tachis, whose takes the elf name Crumpet. Before being hired, however, he undergoes a lengthy interview process, even urine testing. Once he passes that hurdle, he goes through extensive training.

Finally, he dons his costume and joins the army of elves at stations along the way to Santaland and the bearded man in red himself.

Each day there are new trials and tribulations, many of them involving not the kids but their pushy parents. Each day is more exhausting than the one before.

At one point, Tachis expertly manipulates a handheld puppet (designed by Mark Stys) to tell his story.

All of this could be quite amusing. Indeed, many in the opening night audience found many places to laugh.

On the other hand, it seems that, under the direction of Jeffrey Lo, Tachis is trying too hard for laughs as he paces the stage. It also seems odd that his character is constantly swigging some kind of alcohol without explaining or showing its effects.

The show comes closest to the holiday spirit near the end when the Santa on duty Christmas Eve makes every child and parent feel attractive and special. However, that warm feeling is quickly dissipated by Crumpet’s encounter with a crabby supervisor.

Completing the design team are Jill C. Bowers for costumes, Mia Kumamoto for lighting and Howard Ho for sound.

This production marks TheatreWorks’ first foray to Foothill College’s Lohman Theatre, a comfortable venue for a one-man show.

Running about 75 minutes with no intermission, “The Santaland Diaries” will continue through Dec. 23 at the college, 12345 S. El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills. For tickets and information, call (650) 463-1960 or visit