Theater review: “The Santaland Diaries” at 35Below

Bradshaw Call stars in the quirky holiday comedy The Santaland Diaries.
Bradshaw Call stars in the quirky holiday comedy The Santaland Diaries. Photo courtesy Asheville Community Theatre.

The holiday comedy The Santaland Diaries has had many looks and vibes, depending on the actor starring in the show and the venue used for the production. Locally, it has returned to its old haunt at 35Below, under the Asheville Community Theater. And accomplished local actor Bradshaw Call, who has done the show here for three years now, has put his own scruffy, hipster mark on the piece. The Santaland Diaries runs through Sunday, Dec. 18.

It’s definitely an Asheville kind of holiday production, an adults-only piece with some strong language. Be prepared for lots of laughs and a few thoughtful moments dropped in as well.

The one-man show follows the Christmas adventures of a wanna-be actor (based on the real-life misadventures of writer David Sedaris), stuck in New York City with no prospects and little cash. He reluctantly heads over to the Macy’s department store to seek employment as a seasonal elf.

If anyone was less suited for the job, it’s this guy. But he slips into the costume, adopts the name of Crumpet, and begins his duties, leading bright-eyed children over to Santa to pose for pictures.

It sounds simple, but anything that can go wrong does. Parents lead to as many problems as the kids. Oddballs arrive. The many Santas hired for the job have their own quirks.

And Crumpet flirts with his fellow elves, though that element of the show is not as pronounced as it has been in some past productions.

All this is imagined in your mind’s eye. This production of Santaland has minimal staging and props. The initial setting is a New York street, complete with a park bench, a trash can and a portable restroom. Later, a low-rent plastic lawn chair makes an appearance and becomes Santa’s throne. At the back of the stage, there’s a painted New York skyline.  And that’s about it.

It’s basically up to Call take these pieces and convince the audience that this is really Macy’s; that the elves are scampering about and the children are squirming to meet Old Saint Nick. He does a great job of it, too. Call completely understands the character, a frustrated actor who dreams of being on the soap opera “One Life to Live,” but is unlikely to ever make the show.  Call’s performance is sometimes low-key, sometimes highly animated. He comes off the stage to wander through the audience, bringing them even closer to the story.

The 35below space plays his own role in Santaland. This is a small, intimate theater and it amplifies the action. It’s like watching the show in your own living room.

While Sedaris wrote the show as comedy, he wisely added in some strong moments about the true meaning of Christmas, but he doesn’t lay it on so thick as to distract from the entertainment. This production of The Santaland Diaries does the trick and thoroughly engages the audience.

WHAT: The Santaland Diaries

WHERE: 35below, lower back level of Asheville Community Theatre, 35 E. Walnut St.

WHEN: Through Sunday, Dec. 18. Tickets were sold out at press time.

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About Tony Kiss
Tony Kiss covers brewing news for the Xpress. He has been reporting on the Carolina beer scene since 1994. He's also covered distilling and cider making and spent 30 years reporting on area entertainment. Follow me @BeerguyTK

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