Review: Curmudgeonly Crumpet searches for humanity in TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s delightful ‘Santaland Diaries’

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In “The Santaland Diaries,” a fictional account of humorist David Sedaris’ time as a department store elf, Max Tachis channels his inner-curmudgeon. (Photo by Kevin Berne)

There is a serious drinking game going on right now at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.

It involves an elf by the name of Crumpet. In the pantheon of great elf names, not sure exactly how this one ranks. It’s not a name that inspires the warmth of tapioca – more like the staleness of day old fruitcake. Actually, does fruitcake ever not taste stale?

What starts off as an impressive collection of 99 bottles of beer in the gut turns into a tender tale of Christmas, all due to a department store jolly ol’ St. Nick, which has quite an effect on Crumpet.

“The Santaland Diaries,” directed with wonderful skill by Jeffrey Lo and featuring a breakout performance by Max Tachis is based on the true-life exploits of humorist David Sedaris’ time as a department store elf. Originally adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello, the essay by Sedaris has become quite the holiday tradition for the NPR faithful, first read on “Morning Edition” in 1992.

Crumpet, as portrayed by Tachis, spends the first part of 70 uninterrupted minutes explaining the gig that he just got – a gig that includes wearing “green velvet knickers, a forest green velvet smock and a perky little hat decorated with spangles.”

What works extremely well in Sedaris’ bitingly sardonic words is how the absurdity of the holiday season is so well observed. Like, when a particularly entitled shopper threatens to have Crumpet fired, the retort in his mind is priceless – “I’m gonna have you killed.”

Tachis moves delightfully through space as this jaded elf who’s much too tall to be dealing with people’s absurdities. When a woman asks one question too many, inquiring about which line was the women’s bathroom, Crumpet shouts back, “I thought it was the line with all the women in it.”

In the span of the show’s running time, Crumpet has carved out quite the career, all while careening over to the nifty bar that has an endless supply of alcohol. As he gets in deeper to the realities of his existence, the drinks flow a bit more. He is also well-versed in the minutiae of elfdom and all the different tasks that are assigned, each having its own challenges. Whether it’s the perils of singing some Billie Holliday as Photo Elf, or taking the threats of a demanding Santa to a new level as Exit Elf, the absurdities of his showbiz job are sandwiched between glorious vomit and yuletide fist fights.

Tachis does a solid job of discovering everything as it happens. It’s a solo show, yet he not only commiserates with some liquids, but also his puppet sidekick. That puppet provides some great laughs as well. It’s a performance that uses a plethora of variety, and Tachis is plenty likeable as he moves through each effective transition.

This is not a piece that will leave you rolling in the aisles. The humorist and memoirist Sedaris is at his best when sharing the absurdities of his existence, which comes off as highbrow and refined, but still has enough raunch to give plenty of nuanced laughter. And despite Crumpet’s curmudgeonly approach to his role as Santa’s right hand man, his warm discoveries of the season button the production well.

What is palpable is the glee that both Lo and Tachis bring to the show, two young talents who are giddy with this work. The little touches that top off Lo’s vision, along with the quickness of Tachis make for a delicious holiday ditty. There are also some wonderful surprises on both the lighting side by Mia Kumamoto and some deceptively nifty moves in Christopher Fitzer’s scenic design.

“The Santaland Diaries” does a great job pointing out the wrongs of what is supposed to be a magical, wonderful time of year. Sometimes people suck. Sometimes elves suck. And sometimes an elf in the North Pole just needs to have a cold drink after a day of toy building.

Well, maybe not at the end of a day’s worth of toy building. But after a day of singing Billie Holiday in a manger and plotting a snotty customer’s execution, that’s when a beer should certainly be on the grocery list.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley presents “The Santaland Diairies”
Written by David Sedaris
Directed by Jeffrey Lo
Featuring Max Tachis as “Crumpet the Elf”
The Word: Not a buffet of laughs, but definitely plenty of them in a solid production between director Jeffrey Lo and a breakout performance by Max Tachis.
Stars: 4 out of 5
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Foothill College Lohman Theatre
12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills, CA
I-280 at El Monte Road
Tickets range from $20 – $45
For tickets, visit https://theatreworks.org/

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