A dark, twisted comedy about a happy, holiday tradition: ‘The Santaland Diaries’

Show brings an annual cynical lens to the holiday season courtesy of North Carolina author, David Sedaris

Macy’s is infamous for their annual tradition of Santaland: a monstrous, delightful combination of the magic of Santa Claus and thousands upon thousands of screaming children and exasperated parents. David Sedaris, one time holiday elf now acclaimed North Carolinian writer, first read his “Santaland Diaries” story on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” in which he recounted his experiences in Santa’s wonderland in New York City. Two and half decades later, The Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte has brought the story to life on stage at Queens University.

The two-man cast of “The Santaland Diaries” — Chester Shepherd and Jeremy DeCarlos — adeptly balanced biting humor and an array of sight gags to keep the viewer entertained during the 80-minute show — a feat in itself. From recanting tales of oversized, bigger-than-life elves (an all too obvious oxymoron) to delivering horror stories of the countless Santas that lived in the Macy’s Santa’s House, the actors brought a zest for dark humor to a brightly candy-cane coated stage. Followers of twisted tales bending the typical holiday narrative will find themselves delighted to laugh at the bizarre training rituals and exaggerated personalities rife throughout the workshop.

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For the most part, the show plays with the balance of heart and humor quite well, inviting viewers to laugh at the experiences of the narrator, Crumpet, that are complimented by the musical and comedic accompaniment of his partner. However, Sedaris is known for his center left jokes, and there are a few of which that ought to be parsed from more recent incarnations of his work. This interpretation was no exception. Theatre is an ever-evolving piece of work, and the use of words like “retarded,” an ableist slur against those with mental disabilities, takes viewers out of the moment and creates distance from otherwise likeable, if somewhat eccentric characters.

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Aside from a few hiccups with outdated language, the feature brings a character that fondly falls for a fellow elf by the name of Snowball front and center in the audience’s eyes. Fans of Sedaris’s work, satirical looks at holiday traditions, and those who like a good bit of audience interaction should head over to the Headley Theatre at Queens University now. “The Santaland Diaries” wraps up its two-week run on Dec. 23.

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