But something happened around 1997, the year Holidays on Ice appeared with the essay "Santaland Diaries." Sedaris crossed over from coy harlequin to genuine humorist -- a gay Mark Twain in chinos. His dirty laundry began to translate into universal truths about the consequences of growing up in a weird family.
Prior to his fame, one symptom of Sedaris' upbringing was his wildly irregular employment history. In addition to cleaning houses and doing backbreaking work for a moving company, Sedaris had a stint as a Christmas elf at the flagship Macy's store in New York City. Hence, Santaland Diaries, back for an acerbic reprise at Late Night Theatre. Ron Megee doesn't exactly play Sedaris -- he plays someone Megee's age named Ron -- but he certainly succeeds at channeling the author's Scroogelike take on the holiday.
With the wry assistance of set designer Jon Piggy Cupit, Santaland Diaries deceitfully feeds you a candy-cane high before the show even starts. Cupit has created two sets, one concealing the other. The first is like the joke wall from Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In as if designed by the artist Piet Mondrian -- if he'd specialized in 1960s wallpaper. Megee pops his head in and out of little hinged windows as he re-creates the job-interview process (where dwarfs naturally have the edge) and the training class that would seemingly make the elf gig smoothly operational and giddily inspirational.
The wall folds into itself like a Japanese screen to reveal the frosty set where Santa runs through an assembly line of greedy little New Yorkers. For the next 45 minutes, Megee details the ups and downs -- but mostly the downs -- of playing the elf he calls Crumpet. He's a bitter multitasker: a traffic director, a queue keeper, a tantrum soother, and a lubricant whose real purpose is to keep Macy's customers focused on the fact that Santa is the aphrodisiac to the shopping.
Among those Ron encounters are a bus load of "profoundly retarded people" (his words) whose eyes roll back in their heads at the sheer spectacle of it, and a gaggle of kids: fat ones, black ones, rich ones and sick ones. Megee entertainingly gives each tale a quippy edge, though they begin to tumble into a knot; the show's amusements grow a bit redundant toward the end. What stands out, though, is Ron's observations about his co-workers, who, like Kansas City drag queens, take themselves way too seriously. When one asks her supervisor if she can wear her costume home, Megee's twisted face of disgust and annoyance puts us squarely in his corner.
Director Jeff Church is in cahoots with Megee at giving the elf named Ron facets of the actor named Ron. When he changes out of his street clothes into the lavishly appointed pixie suit, it's to a beat one would hear in a go-go boy bar. Also, there's something deliciously wicked in seeing Megee's Late Night spin on a sample from The Nutcracker. The show is a finely seasoned fruitcake, skewering every gluttonous side-effect of Christmas. As relentlessly nasty as Crumpet can be, there won't be any coal in Megee's stocking.