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Cynical musings of unlikely elf shine in 'The Santaland Diaries'



eacle. First, Ghostlight Theatre Club staged its irreverently ribald "Screw the Eggnog, Pass the Rum," and last week, Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre presented a brief run of "The Santaland Diaries" by David Sedaris, directed by Michael Jones, at the Civic Center Music Hall's CitySpace theater.

If artistic directors are wondering whether a demand exists for such fare, we Scrooges on this side of wassail bowl say, "We want more!"

"The Santaland Diaries," a one-hander, was performed by Shawn Churchman, whose directorial work is familiar to audiences. He directed the excellent "Little Me" for City Rep in 2005 and staged a fine "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" at the University of Oklahoma this season. Clad in a green velvet tunic, culottes and a "provocatively erect elfin hat" (all well-executed by costume-designer Jeffrey Meek), Churchman succeeded on the stage as well as he has in front of it.

Essayist and humorist Sedaris based "The Santaland Diaries," which was adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello, on his experience working as a "Santaland" elf at a Macy's depart­ment store in New York City. Those of us who are familiar with Sedaris' work and his nasal-toned readings on public radio know that he is not a prime candidate for elfdom. He's a wry, gay, cynical observer of contemporary life who is often exasperated at the foibles of human existence. He is certain he can't pass Macy's drug test. Naturally, he gets the job.

To Be an Elf

First, he endures "elf training." Macy's elves must be, well, merry. This is too much for Sedaris, who exclaims, "It makes one's mouth hurt to speak with such forced merriment."

Time is reserved for "retarded people," to use Sedaris' term, to visit Santaland. Before long, the writer can't tell the difference between them and regular New Yorkers. "Vamoose" is the code word for the janitorial staff to clean up child vomit. He condemns boorish and manipulative parents, some of whom request a Santa Claus of a specific race "? one wants a Santa who is "white like us"; another complains because a Santa isn't "black enough."

Finally, one Santa teaches Sedaris a lesson about the true meaning of Christmas "? the peace on Earth part of it, anyway "? that gives the playwright pause, and coming from a cynic such as Sedaris, the message gains cred­ibility. Amid all the clamor and crass commercialism of the season, he has an unexpected, seemingly transformational encounter with this department-store Santa who does not ask children what toys they want for Christmas but, instead, asks parents to pause and kiss their beautiful children on the forehead.

This simple gesture shows that peace on Earth begins between parents and children, and when we stop to think that families of all nationalities, creeds and religions only want the same respect and decency that we want for our families, it's a wonder that peace on Earth is so darned hard to achieve. It turns out that "The Santaland Diaries" is a Christmas story meant for everyone.  "?Larry Laneer


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