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One elf-show: Actor Luke Moravec is the dry-humored Crumpet in ‘The Santaland Diaries’

Luke Moravec of Duluth is in The Underground production of the one-man show, "The Santaland Diaries." --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com1 / 4
Luke Moravec of Duluth performs during a rehearsal of The Underground production of the one-man show, "The Santaland Diaries." --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com2 / 4
Luke Moravec of Duluth performs during a rehearsal of The Underground production of the one-man show, "The Santaland Diaries." --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com3 / 4
Luke Moravec of Duluth is in The Underground production of the one-man show, "The Santaland Diaries." --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com4 / 4

Luke Moravec knows a bit about the Santa-scene. The local actor has had a hand in the Christmas City Express, both as a writer and character at the annual event that combines a short train ride, a seasonal story, and a visit from Mr. Claus.

So it's no surprise he feels a kinship with an elf named Crumpet.

Moravec plays the elf in "The Santaland Diaries," a one-man theatrical production based on David Sedaris's essay about working as one of Santa's helpers at Macy's in New York City. The comedic play, directed by Moravec's wife Cheryl Skafte runs today through Saturday at The Underground. Tickets are $15.

Moravec was a newbie to the Santa-scene when Skafte passed along one of her favorite essays by Sedaris, he said.

"I loved it, I loved it," Moravec said of the essay, which premiered on National Public Radio more than 20 years ago, and later on "This American Life." "It rings true to my holiday experience."

Since then, a yearly reading of the essay has become a family tradition for the couple that has been married five years.

"On Christmas day, we cuddle up together and take turns reading from the book," Skafte said. And, of course, "(we) have a good laugh."

The Sedaris essay is the story of a New York artist who would rather be writing for "One Life to Live," but has taken the job of elf because, as he says in his interview, it's the most ridiculous thing he can think of. Crumpet, as he is called, goes through orientation, earns his green velvet clothing and pointy shoes, then spends his time making small-talk with kiddos, observing terrible parents, flirting with an elf named Snowball, and talking about "One Life to Live" with his coworkers. In between is a rotating cast of Santas, including the always on-point Santa-Santa.

Joe Mantello, a Broadway actor, adapted the essay for the stage in the mid-1990s.

While the story is the same, the play is arranged differently.

"It's not an exact replica," Moravec said. "It's structured in a better way. David Sedaris wrote down the words and the experiences. I don't think he created it with a story arc. He put it in a very real way, (but the playwright) played with it a bit to give it that arc — to give it a complete story."

And Moravec's version won't be in the style of Sedaris, according to Skafte.

"He's brought his own character and professionalism and talent to the stage and has interpreted the story in an honest and fun way," Skafte said. "He's trying to embody those qualities of the David Sedaris story — honesty and ridiculousness fused together for a meaningful evening of storytelling."

The 50-minute show is light on accessories — "We have to have a Santa chair, but I don't think we have a single prop," Skafte said — but includes the on-stage costume transformation to full-on elf.

This is Moravec's first time one-man show, but it's not his first "one-man" descriptor. He plays all the instruments in his one-man band, Zozatras: vocals, guitar, keyboard, harmonica, drums. He described the sound as "skiffle rock." Moravec couldn't find a muse, he said, when he started writing songs two years ago. He decided that a caper-solving canine would do.

"My love of 'Scooby Doo' would be my muse," he said. So he began writing about episodes.

Zozatras will perform original songs and Christmas classics following "The Santaland Diaries."

"I hope no one is showing up with a notepad and being a critic," he said of the Zozatras show. "I do have fun with it. My goal is to make it as good of a musical presentation as I can. Are there going to be missteps along the way? Yeah. I'm playing four instruments."

IF YOU GO

What: "The Santaland Diaries"

When: 8 p.m. today-Saturday

Where: The Underground, 506 W. Michigan St.

Tickets: $15 at duluthplayhouse.org

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