Volume I, Issue II Winter 2002

Burton grows into little role

Santaland Diaries
Written by David Sedaris
Directed by Brendon Fox

Cassius Carter Centre Stage
The Globe Theatres complex
Balboa Park, San Diego, Calif.
Through Dec. 24

Originally brought to San Diego a year ago to fill the Globe's smaller Cassius Carter Centre Stage while the often sold-out "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" played on the main stage, "Santaland Diaries" is establishing its own ability to create a familiar holiday glow.

Again featuring the manic Arnie Burton in David Sedaris' autobiographical one-man show, the Globe's rendition of "Santaland Diaries" is a needed bit of relief from the twin Christmas themes of cute and commercial.

The play tells the story of a young writer (Sedaris) who has just moved to New York from the Midwest with the hopes of writing for a soap opera. Tossed upon the cold shoals of reality, he ends up answering a classified ad offering jobs as Christmas elves at Macy's.

Santaland Diaries

Sedaris takes some strong stabs at the overtly commercial nature of contemporary Christmas, but never gets bitter or caustic — just tired. Which makes it a more effective vehicle for steering us back to sanity — nobody is immune to the withering emotional toll of the modern pressure to buy, buy, buy.

Burton was a crazed delight last year — and is even better this. He's more immersed in the role this time around, and his edgy take on a 30-something reduced to working at Santaland is true to life, with all the frustration, resignation and offense one would experience.

Burton's enthusiasm never flagged opening night, and he delivers Sedaris' razor-edged barbs with vicious delight.

It is Sedaris, of course, who penned such little gems as this one — when his character talks about the former high-tech yuppies forced to take work as Christmas elves:

They never imagined there was a velvet costume in their future.

Or this nugget when describing elf training:

It hurts the mouth to talk with such forced merriment.

And it's not all cynical, either. Toward the end, Sedaris writes of one Santa who never even asks the child what she wants for Christmas, but instead reminds her young parents to cherish her as the greatest gift of all, leaving everyone — even the battle-hardened elf — teary-eyed.

It's not Christmas Sedaris finds overwhelming — it's what we've done with it.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif.

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