The Long Christmas Dinner and The SantaLand Diaries

Sacred Fools Theater 
660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles

Andrew Friedman in "The SantaLand Diaries."

     Back in 1992, David Sedaris wrote and talked about working as a Macy's Christmas elf (name: Crumpet) on National Public Radio, which is reason enough to support National Public Radio ad infinitum. Director Joe Mantello adapted the diary entries for the stage. In recent years, "The SantaLand Diaries" has popped up more frequently around the holidays.
     It is getting a nice airing at the moment at Sacred Fools, courtesy of Andrew Freidman's Crumpet, as one half of a seasonal double bill. The other half is Thornton Wilder's "The Long Christmas Dinner." And the two writers' sensibilities make sense together on the same stage.
     Wilder's 1931 one-act telescopes several generations of Christmas dinners at one family's table, so that characters are born, live and die in the time it takes to pass the cranberries. Its central point relates to Wilder's later "Our Town." Life goes by with ruthless haste, even when it doesn't; we are all, to some extent, blind, passing through our rituals and relationships like tourists. How to become, in the best sense, natives of our own lives?
     Wilder's viewpoint isn't radical, but the form of "The Long Christmas Dinner" fascinates still. Sedaris' form isn't anything special, but his viewpoint--hilariously sour and whiny, in an observant way--makes the piece a tasty little arsenic cookie.
     Sedaris and Wilder acknowledge the tough aspects of Christmas. Working in Macy's SantaLand, nursing a crush on a good-looking colleague, Crumpet sees his share of miserable, misery-inducing parents on the job. "SantaLand Diaries" is a rebuke to lousy parents everywhere and grinding commercialism in all forms. Wilder takes the rueful long view.
     David P. Moore directs both one-acts for Sacred Fools, and though the scenic design is awfully drab, the stagings are light-handed and clever. Freidman's elf gets an assist from various prop-carrying auxiliary elves and, valuably, Freidman doesn't oversell "SantaLand" or try to turn it into stand-up comedy.
     Overall the Wilder piece fares less well, with some cast members harrumphing and play-acting their way through various stages of old age. But Blythe Baten's Leonora and Barbara Kerr Condon's Mother Bayard (and later, Ermengarde) keep their scenes honest and sharp.
--MICHAEL PHILLIPS, Times Theater Critic

Through Dec. 22
Sundays, 7 p.m.
Thursdays, 8 p.m.
Fridays, 8 p.m.
Saturdays, 8 p.m.

Price: $15.
Tickets: Box office: 310-281-8337

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times