Saturday, December 10, 2011

Zoetic Stage: The SantaLand Diaries (4 reviews)

Zoetic Stage opened its production of The Santaland Diaries at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on December 8, 2011.
A blisteringly funny evocation of Christmas Hell. One man's hysterical and often insightful look at the humilities, frustrations and joys of working as an elf at Macy's Santaland. This holiday classic is David Sedaris at his biting best and a reminder why Sedaris is one of the greatest humorists of our time.
Stuart Meltzer directed Michael McKeever.

Roger Martin
reviewed for Miami ArtZine:
...The SantaLand Diaries is a wry one act based on Sedaris' Christmas job as one of Santa's little helpers. And McKeever is the perfectly humiliated (Sedaris needed the money) but always conniving Elf Crumpet, with the green and red pointy elf shoes and pointy elf hat, delivering this seventy minute monologue with sly sophistication. They're all here, the frantic mothers, the whining kids, the Santas who really ain't no saints, and of course, The Elf Managers...
...McKeever's middle name is Renaissance, not because he's really old but because of his many talents. You want a new play? You want an actor, an artist, a set designer? Someone who can sing “Away in The Manger” and make you think he's Billie Holiday? Then you know who to call. And by the way, he designed the gorgeous Christmas tree, present laden, candy cane set on which he cavorts as Elf Crumpet.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Don’t be misled by the loveliness of the set, which was designed by the show’s star, Michael McKeever. The SantaLand Diaries isn’t for those who revere Christmas, nor is it suitable for the kiddies. But if you can laugh at the idea of parents art directing their childrens’ Santa photos, a lusty older elf coming on to all those mommies or a particular corner where kids hurl before they even get close to Santa’s lap, well, SantaLand may just be your cup of spiked eggnog.
Staged by Stuart Meltzer, Zoetic’s The SantaLand Diaries takes us along on one man’s journey from joblessness to a holiday season spent playing an elf named Crumpet. As with any job, there are stresses: moody Santas, racist parents, the embarrassment of having to walk through the actual store while decked out in a red and green costume, candy-cane socks and a jingle bell-tipped collar.
On his final night as an elf, Crumpet experiences a swell of sentiment, one that Sedaris and McKeever undercut with jolting glee.

McKeever’s performance is pitched just right: wry yet warm, energetic even as he’s describing the weirdness of life as an elf. He nails Sedaris’ skewed but somehow compassionate way of looking at the world. He’s funny, sardonic and, underneath it all, undeniably sweet.
Bill Hirshman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
In Zoetic Stage’s production, the satirical monologue of a would-be actor slaving as an elf in Macy’s SantaLand is a wry, acerbic riff on the desensitizing corporate commercialization not just of the holiday, but of genuine sentiment as well.

Michael McKeever, one of the region’s most popular thespians, is inspired casting, not just because of his slight stature, but because of his blend of genial charm and beleaguered helplessness at the absurdities that the temp job heaps upon his sensibilities.
Under Stuart Meltzer’s direction, McKeever delivers these grievances with a weary twinkle that enlists our sympathy as well as our laughter. Although the material doesn’t flag, it also is somewhat similar in tone for the first two thirds of the evening, so some people might find the middle sagging a little. But Meltzer and McKeever keep finding moments to inject some extra theatrical topspin such as an imitation of Billie Holiday bluesing up “Away in the Manger” is simply inspired.
Then there’s the image of McKeever issuing a few blue phrases trying to keep his dignity while dressed in a polyester green-and-red motley with jingle bells, curling toes on his boots and a floppy hat.

If you’re already overdosing on too much tinsel and powdered sugar, SantaLand is the antidote to the holiday insulin shock.
Chris Joseph reviewed for The Miami New Times:
Through vignettes and anecdotes, the hilarious 80-minute, one-act play seeks to show the ruination of Christmas through the petty, trivial, and tired ritual of parents forcing their howling children to sit on the lap of some fat guy in a red suit, all told through the eyes of an aging man in green tights and candy-cane socks...
The multitalented McKeever breezes across the stage with an athletic and playful dexterity that lets audience members know they're in on the joke. And his comedic timing really brings Sedaris's stinging commentary to life.

The stage design by Stuart Meltzer, who also directs, looks like a Christmas bomb went off. Ostensibly a mockup of Santaland at Macy's, there is an amalgam of fake gifts, fake snow, fake candy-cane pillars, and colored lights surrounding Santa's throne, made of fake gold.

From the blinking holiday lights accompanied by a "Hallelujah" chorus as McKeever transforms from tie-wearing guy to Crumpet the elf, to the several oversize martinis he swigs throughout the play, nothing is understated. Meltzer and McKeever make the most of the small stage to full comedic effect.
The Zoetic Stage production of The Santaland Diaries plays at the Arsht Center through December 23, 2011.

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