One of the first things that strikes you when it comes to meeting Crumpet the Elf is his ability to throw back the booze. His traveling bar, with plenty of drinks loaded up on a rolling cart, gets lighter and lighter as the evening goes on.
There is one very lucky guy on the stage, a guy that doesn’t have to share that booze with anyone. That guy is actor Max Tachis, who portrays the infamous department store elf Crumpet in David Sedaris’ holiday classic “The Santaland Diaries,” opening Friday, Dec. 7th at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley. The show is a return engagement of the piece that ran a year ago, directed again by the company’s casting director Jeffrey Lo.
So inquiring minds want to know – how much of that drinking is actually happening?
Tachis offers only a cheeky response – “That’s a nifty little actor secret.”
In the 70 minutes that the 29-year-old Tachis graces the stage with his amazingly Christmasy elf outfit, described by Sedaris as “green velvet knickers, a forest green velvet smock and a perky little hat decorated with spangles,” Crumpet is all kinds of cynical, but ultimately finds a bit of a heart. That is, when he’s not threatening shoppers with their impending homicides by his hands.
Since this is his second go around with the character, Tachis has had a year to live with Crumpet and makes it clear that for the character to work, it just can’t simply be a grumpy embittered department store employee. That can grow tiresome.
“It’s easy to fall into that, but that’s something Jeffrey and I had to fight against, because it doesn’t make for a pleasant viewing experience,” said Tachis. “If the guy is being a jerk the whole time, he’s not having fun and the audience won’t have fun.
“We were able to find spots where he was grumpy and cynical, but we also found spots where he was impactful, and we kept the show above that as often we could.”
One of the best learning experiences about how to portray the character came from the source himself. Both he and Lo made it out to a reading of “Diaries” that Sedaris did a year ago, which coincidentally was the night before rehearsals were going to start for their production.
“It was an incredible learning experience to see how he navigated his own pieces and the way he brought you through his world view,” said Tachis. “The way he brought you through it was like being on a nice boat but on a nasty river.”
More than any show Tachis has ever done, this piece is extremely intimate, with the challenge being that there are no other actors to play against, however the characters in Crumpet’s world are ever present. That required Tachis to really sharpen his focus in order to absorb all the nuance that exists in the script.
“It’s the toughest thing to just stay aware of the energy level the entire time, because there are so many traps in the show where you change a line reading and the energy gets deflated,” said Tachis. “When we came back to the show this year, all those traps were still there, and we made sure to avoid them.
“The constant barometer of the energy level in the room has to stay on and stay high.”
Tachis doesn’t consider himself a huge Christmas guy. He loves gathering with his family during the holidays, and for a good 10 years he worked in the coffee industry, where an incessant stream of holiday tunes and red bows on things filled his eight hours a day. Yet he has nailed down a very specific seasonal job, one that he thoroughly enjoys.
It’s not just the supporting elf role he loves. He also adores the big cheese who closes out the festivities.
“I really love portraying Santa at the very end, because it really makes it a holiday show and gives it a nice, rounded out end there,” said Tachis. “It really brings the show to a holiday place, because that final Santa is full of heart. After 70 minutes, inhabiting somebody totally enjoying himself is refreshing.”
Based on all the bottles that take up residency in the show, Santa Claus certainly isn’t the only refreshing thing on stage.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley presents “The Santaland Diairies”
Written by David Sedaris
Adapted by Joe Mantello
Directed by Jeffrey Lo
Featuring Max Tachis as “Crumpet the Elf”
Through Dec. 23rd
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/