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Theater review: Crumpet the elf tells his tale of holiday woes

Luke Moravec of Duluth is in The Underground production of the one-man show, "The Santaland Diaries." --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com

It might not be as high on the list of annual holiday traditions as "A Christmas Carol," "White Christmas," or "The Nutcracker," but David Sedaris' "The Santaland Diaries" has been carving out its own strange, little seasonal niche. Thursday night at the sold-out Underground, Luke Moravec brought the one-elf, one-act version of the humorist's holiday tale to the Northland.

After three weeks in New York City, Dave, an unemployed 33-year-old man who dreams of being Victoria Buchanan's best bud on "One Life to Live," sinks so low that he applies for a job as a full-time elf.

Not an elf like Legolas or even like Hermie, but a "Bad Santa"-type elf, because the gig is at Macy's Santaland.

"Santaland Dairies" was originally broadcast on NPR's "Morning Edition" in 1992, with Sedaris recalling — with mondo embellishment — the two Christmas seasons he spent working as an elf in Macy's department store on New York's Herald Square. Sedaris expanded the story as an essay, and in 1996, Joe Mantello adapted that essay for the stage (Timothy Olyphant was the original "Dave").

Initially, you are convinced Dave is not long for this job, mainly because he has a stubborn streak of practicality that tends to deconstruct every bizarre aspect of Santaland, but also because he picks "Crumpet" as his elf name. However, as the periodic loudspeaker announcements at Macy's start counting down the shopping days until Christmas, it seems Dave might actually make it to the big day.

Because this is a monologue, Moravec often talks directly to the audience, who get to spell and chant at one point in the proceedings. Moravec plays his character as slightly sardonic and fully aware of his flaws, but also capable of acknowledging the good in people even if his default position is to look with horror at most of the human tide relentlessly flowing through Macy's day after day.

There is definitely a dark side to Santaland. Apparently Santa no longer traffics in coal, and now kids headed for the naughty list have something even worse to look forward to if they do not change their wicked ways. Plus, if you have ever wondered what to say to someone who promises to have you fired, it turns out there are a couple of funny but probably actionable comebacks.

But just when you begin to despair, as the terrible kids with truly horrible parents start to tip the scales in their favor, Dave shares his own little Christmas miracle. Yes, the evening will end with a final laugh, but Sedaris has his own take on what Christmas is really all about.

Directed by Cheryl Skafte, who finally assumes in public the role she has played in private for several years, "The Santaland Diaries" has a special starting time of 8 p.m., so it both starts and ends before "A Christmas Carol," which is running at the other end of the Depot.

However, if you stick around afterward at the Underground, there are not only cookies and cider, but music from Moravec's one-man band.

If you go

What: "The Santaland Diaries" adapted by Joe Mantello from the essay by David Sedaris

When: 8 p.m. Saturday is sold out. Some tickets might be available at the door.

Where: The Underground, 506 W. Michigan St.

Tickets: $15 at duluthplayhouse.org