Sedaris enlisted actor and director Joe Mantello to adapt his short story and National Public Radio essay into this chronicle of his experience one Christmas season as an elf in Macy's labyrinthine Santaland. Admittedly "pathetic" that a 33-year-old gay man has a temporary job that requires green shoes that curl at the toes, the gig turned out to be Sedaris' grimy star of Bethlehem; in it, he sees the true meaning of the season -- naked greed to the tune of "Jingle Bells."
Director Jeff Church makes sure Megee's fairy slippers cross every inch of the set, designed lovingly by Jon Piggy Cupit as a tribute to Xmas kitsch. Dodging big, fluffy pillows of fake snow, an animated Rudolph and Dickensian cherub (which, at one point, becomes a little tyke in the throes of a tantrum), and oversize packages, Megee unleashes biting commentary about his month in a plastic, frozen hell. By the last partridge in a pear tree, he is so entrenched in this winter wonderland that, to save himself, he fixates on the fact that "Santa" is an anagram for "Satan."
Sedaris' text spares no one. His fellow elves include a well-cast dwarf, a chipper woman with horrendous body odor, and a flamboyant twinkie who flirts with all his male costars. Some of the Santas are caught up in their own grandiosity, while others predictably drink. But the Macy's shoppers get the largest spear, including groups of the mentally disabled and parents who don't want their children sitting on the lap of any Santa who happens to have dark skin. "Goddammit, Rachel," says one mother, "if you don't stop crying, I'll give you something to cry about."
The success of Megee's work brings out both the camp quotient (including a strip tease to a disco anthem as he transforms from street clothes to costume designer Georgianna Londre's candy cane couture) and no small bit of poignancy. His elf tries valiantly to see the good in people at their worst and, if he emerges somewhat scathed, also has seen moments of sweetness. Jeffrey Cady's vibrant lighting and David Kiehl's energetic sound design contribute heartily to making The Santaland Diaries a politically incorrect though theatrically frisky evening.
At the opening-night performance of the Unicorn Theatre's Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a pudgy man in orchestra right felt compelled to repeatedly speak to actor Rick Hammerly's title character. It wasn't heckling, exactly, but what started as bothersome became pathological. Hammerly handled it with aplomb, finally hurling at him, "Fag!" It didn't help much, but it broke some of the tension. In the seat next to him, KCUR 89.3 on-air personality Kim Noble all but crawled under her seat, hoping people wouldn't think he was with her.
A week prior, at a Sunday matinee of Aida at New York's Palace Theatre, four separate incidents within my proximity made me lament the days when boorish audience members merely smelled. One row in front of me and to the left, a younger woman of Asian origin translated much of the show for her older companion, while directly ahead a twenty-something male whipped out his cellular phone, turned on its glaring green face, and checked his messages. Behind me, a petulant teenage girl kicked the back of my seat at least 10 times. But the worst offender was the schlubby tourist behind and to the left who chomped on Corn Nuts or some other very loud snack throughout the entire second act.
In Kansas City, New York, or anywhere else, I almost expect talking during the overture and the unwrapping of candies -- both of which were to the immediate right of Kansas City native Becky Barta at a performance of Jane Eyre in New York City. Barta said of the woman later, "And then she said, 'Can you imagine someone bringing a pager into the theater?'"
Thinking nothing could surprise me, I was wrong. At a matinee of The Full Monty, a Bela Lugosi lookalike two rows ahead loudly exclaimed during one of the show's raunchier numbers, "This is Broadway?" And then we saw what had temporarily shut down his inhibitions: a pint of scotch or whiskey he was swilling out of a paper bag. And you thought pretheater cocktails stopped in the lobby.