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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Ryan Winkles as Crumpet the Elf in David Sedaris' "The Santaland Diaries" at Shakespeare & Co.

"The Santaland Diaries" at Shakespeare & Co. a mixed bag

by Kory Loucks

LENOX, Mass. — The holidays are definitely upon us, with lots of seasonal activities and traditions. One that is becoming its own new tradition is “The Santaland Diaries,” written by David Sedaris and adapted to the stage by Joe Mantello.

The premise is basically a retelling of the story of Sedaris’ time working at Macy’s Santaland as Crumpet the Elf during the Christmas season.

Ryan Winkles plays the perky, somewhat salacious, and occasionally creepy elf. He is in his tastefully decorated Pottery Barn living room in a New York City apartment, with set design by Patrick Brennan.

At the start of the show he is preparing for a holiday party when he sees the audience and gently chastises us for being an hour early. It’s a cute premise that allows him to launch into his story about his time as a Christmas elf. Interacting with the audience and offering us candy canes is a sweet touch, directed by Tony Simotes.

Sedaris’ tale was first a book, and despite all the dancing and twirling and skipping around by the graceful, energetic, and adorable Winkles, it feels for the most part like a saga best told on paper.

He regales us with stories of his experiences, good and bad, in great detail, bordering on too much information. For example, when he talks about the women elves not wearing underwear and the reason that isn’t acceptable, it’s gross and not necessary.

He also talks about the abusive parents he saw who slapped their children to get them to stop crying. If that really happened, and there’s no reason to believe that it didn’t, it’s pretty disturbing that no one did anything to stop them.

Most of the elves are high school kids, we learn, which this 33-year-old man says he likes because “I get to see them in their underwear” in the changing rooms. That is not cool and very creepy.

The elf suit, by Costume Designer Govane Lohbauer, is just as cute as can be, and Winkles dons the outfit before our eyes, which gives his story more color.

The rest of the show is dedicated to giving descriptions of his fellow elves, the Santa Clauses, and the abuse he takes from customers for being an elf.

I was deeply moved when he described the last Santa speaking to the children and their parents, not about toys and presents, but about loving and caring for each other. It was sincere and beautiful.

This is the behind-the-scenes look at the world of Santa, so it’s probably not best for young believers.

Winkles started out a little rocky at a recent Sunday matinee, as if he didn’t know all his lines, but he picked up steam near the end and finished with a flourish.

It’s a mixed bag of Christmas cheer at “The Santaland Diaries,” playing at Shakespeare & Company through Friday, Dec. 30.

Stage review

3 stars

"The Santaland Diaries"

Theater: Shakespeare & Company.

Location: Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 70 Kemble St., Lenox, Mass.

Production: Written by David Sedaris and adapted by Joe Mantello. Set design by Patrick Brennan. Costume design by Govane Lohbauer. Lighting design by Stephen D. Ball. Sound design by Michael Pfeiffer. Stage Manager Hope Rose Kelly.

Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission.

Show times: Friday through Sunday, including most Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. as well as performances Monday through Friday at 7:30 p.m. during Christmas week through Dec. 30. There is no performance on Dec. 25.

Tickets: $16 to $49. For more information, call the box office at 413-637-3353 or visit:


Ryan Winkle.......................Crumpet the Elf

4 stars Excellent 3 stars Good 2 stars Fair 1 star Poor

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