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‘The Santaland Diaries’ presents an elf horror story

David+Harlan+plays+Crumpet+in+%E2%80%9CThe+Santaland+Diaries%2C%E2%80%9D+a+cynical+Christmas+elf+who+gets+hired+to+work+in+Macy%E2%80%99s+Santaland.
David Harlan plays Crumpet in “The Santaland Diaries,” a cynical Christmas elf who gets hired to work in Macy’s Santaland.

David Harlan plays Crumpet in “The Santaland Diaries,” a cynical Christmas elf who gets hired to work in Macy’s Santaland.

David Harlan plays Crumpet in “The Santaland Diaries,” a cynical Christmas elf who gets hired to work in Macy’s Santaland.

CATHERINE KRUSE | Evergreen theater reporter

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Similar yet opposite to the story of Buddy in New York City is the tale of Crumpet, the Christmas elf working in the Macy’s Santaland.

“The Santaland Diaries” is a play adapted from an essay by comedian David Sedaris. The story is a true-life tale about Crumpet, a writer who takes up a job working as a Macy’s Department Store elf.

Being an elf isn’t exactly Crumpet’s cup of tea. David Harlan, who plays Crumpet, describes the character as cynical. The only reason he has a job as an elf is because he’s desperate.

“At one point, I say I’m down to the wire,” Harlan said, “$20 away from walking dogs.”

Harlan said Crumpet takes interest in analyzing the elves, visitors and Santa Clauses that come into the store. The audience, too, will recognize the stereotypes of parents, children and the Santaland employees, seeing the worst and the best parts of the holiday season.

“I have done jobs in New York doing something very similar,” director and WSU professor of acting Mary Trotter said. “I’m glad that time of my life is over.”

Trotter said she had fun going back to that world and sharing with Harlan the connections she made with friends who worked in Macy’s Santaland during her time in New York.

This is Harlan’s second time doing “The Santaland Diaries,” having performed it before two years ago. He said he was drawn to the witty and smart character of Crumpet and the story that’s both funny and has a good point.

“The Santaland Diaries” plays out as a one-man show, with only Crumpet on the stage the entire time. Harlan said the rehearsal process is very different since he spends a lot of time by himself. A director like Trotter needs to be there to judge where things need to be worked, Harlan said.

“You just plow through and do one-on-one with a collaborator who you trust,” Harlan said. “and that’s what Mary is.”

From a director’s standpoint, Trotter said working one-man shows is fun because you get to have just one person to focus on. One of the biggest differences between a single actor and a full ensemble is seeing a show more about storytelling versus a play, where there’s a lot more action in front of the audience.

A one-man show, though apparently seen as a guy standing onstage and telling a story, cannot stay in one place. The trick is to figure out how to utilize the space without making the actor pace back and forth, Trotter said.

“You’re looking for that actor’s landing moments,” she said. “Making sure the joke lands right or transitions from section to section to different topics is making sense.”

For the most part, Harlan said he embodies Crumpet during the show, however there are some views of the other elves, the visitors and the different people playing Santa. His transitions to the other characters are quick, portrayed in the way Crumpet would play them.

Playing these different characters requires knowing them from the inside out: their circumstances and motivations, which inform how the body rests and how the voice sounds, Harlan said. The brief moments when he plays different characters requires accents and exaggerated gestures.

“It has to come from the inside or it’s not believable,” he said.

One-man shows can be scary. In a full ensemble, if someone messes up then there’s another actor who can bail you out. But if everyone isn’t on the same page, it can be hard to work with, Harlan said. With a one-man show, there’s more control, which can be helpful and difficult because the actor has to make the story his own.

Harlan said he has enjoyed the story and following Crumpet’s journey from his initial reaction to being an elf to his moving moment of truly feeling the Christmas spirit.

“Life has its ups and downs, and Christmas can be horrible when you’re single and alone and far from your family,” Harlan said. “(Crumpet) has this moment where he sees just people being good to each other in the true Christmas spirit. It’s really sweet.”

“The Santaland Diaries” will show at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 21 and 22 at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre in Moscow. Tickets are $10.

This show may not be suitable for children due to some swearing and sexual allusions.

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‘The Santaland Diaries’ presents an elf horror story