Elfin Magic at Flashpoint

by Ellen Wilson Dilks

THE SANTALAND DIARIES was originally an essay written by humorist David Sedaris chronicling his experience as a Christmas elf at Macy’s flagship store in New York City. Sedaris first read the piece on NPR on Dec. 23rd of 1992. He had been discovered by radio host Ira Glass as he was doing readings from his diary at a club in Chicago.  In 1996, Joe Mantello adapted the piece as a one-man show for the stage. It has become a Philly tradition for Flashpoint Theatre Company to revive it each holiday season (this year is #6), featuring one the company’s founders Derick Loafmann as Crumpet the Elf. (Friday night’s crowd seemed to be old friends of the production.)

Derick Loafmann stars in Flashpoint Theatre Company's THE SANTALAND DIARIES playing at The Adrienne in Philadelphia, PA through December 19. (Photo credit: Arthur Malavasic)

 This season, directorial duties were done by Flashpoint’s Audience Services Manager, Noah Herman, and he and Loafmann have had a lot of fun with it.  They wisely follow the “keep it simple stupid” mantra and stage it in a very bare bones manner that works wonderfully. The rock/rap pre-show mix of unconventional holiday tunes was a great way to get in the mood of the night.  (I was boogieing in my seat….)

Loafmann is an engaging performer who handles the quirky material well—I’m sure his familiarity with it helps greatly. It’s a wild ride of escalating neuroses that one can’t help laughing at. As someone who has worked with the public for years, I totally related to the mental comebacks you give to annoying patrons. I was flashing back to some of my own encounters. My companion had heard Sedaris’ NPR reading, so he was familiar, but enjoyed himself seeing it in a new way.  It was entirely uncharted territory to me and I had a great time getting lost in Crumpet’s holiday hell. My only wish would be that the performer had a little freedom to include some topical references throughout. The bits about the soap opera One Life to Live seemed a bit dated.  (Is that even on anymore?)

Flashpoint performs on the Second Stage at the Adrienne—a perfect intimate space for a piece like this.  And in this case, they’ve even got seating onstage. The Adrienne is host to several of the city’s small burgeoning companies—one of whom was performing above us. As Mr. Herman pointed out in his curtain speech, the space lacks soundproof ceilings.  “Don’t be afraid of the noise from above, you’re safe. That’s just art happening.” Well, I don’t know what kind of “art” was going on—it sounded more like Sumo wrestling.     There were a couple of times my friend and I were certain they were coming through the ceiling.  And God bless Mr. Loafmann for (a) maintaining his concentration and (b) playing off the noise when necessary.

I’d like to give shout-outs to the production staff, but I think Flashpoint is having some fun with us. I’m fairly certain that Thony Wheezer (listed as set designer) is not a real person—in spite of an amusing and exceedingly tongue-in-cheek bio.  The appropriately humiliating elf costume was apparently created by one Gwencenslas Heaver-Werman (a nod to new Artistic director Thom Weaver and director Herman perhaps?).       According to the press release, in reality the costuming was handled by Flashpoint co-founder Gigi Naglak, and the sound design was by John Glaubitz—so that just leaves the mystery of Thony to solve….Their contributions to the piece were simple yet appropriate, serving things well.  I love small companies—everybody chips in to “get ‘er done.”

Tickets are really reasonably priced—leaving plenty of ducats for holiday gifts. So Flashpoint’s latest permutation of THE SANTALAND DIARIES is a great anecdote to the other more sentimental holiday theatrical fare.   (Not that there’s anything wrong with that….)

by David Sedaris
adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello
directed by Noah Herman
December 1 – 19, 2010
Flashpoint Theatre Company
@ The Adrienne
2030 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA

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