By DAVID DIXON | Uptown News
All Christmas shows need not necessarily conform to the traditional “family friendly” format, and one example is Diversionary Theatre’s production of the dark comedy one-man show, “The Santaland Diaries.”
The story is adapted by Joe Mantello from David Sedaris’ essay of the same title, with Wil Bethmann playing Crumpet, a Macy’s department store elf who, as part of his work, deals with numerous problems involving both flawed parents and their children.
As the tale unfolds, Crumpet shares his glum thoughts on his work and the Christmas holiday with the audience.
Director Anthony Methvin (who calls himself a “Christmas nut”) is a fan of Sedaris and loves the original essay from the humorist and author. “I actually have never seen the piece staged before,” he said. “It’s kind of exciting to come in with a fresh pair of eyes.”
Methvin wants the work to connect equally with admirers of Sedaris and people who aren’t familiar with his writing. “Hopefully, people who don’t know Sedaris will dive into his work more deeply,” he said. “He really is one of our greatest literary minds.”
Labeled as a Legacy Revival Production, Methvin is glad to direct a work from the openly gay Sedaris at the LGBT theater.
“It feels fitting that we’re doing a legacy production of a classic queer piece of theater,” he said.
Like Methvin, Bethmann wanted to become involved with the staging because of Sedaris’ unique depiction of Christmas.
“It’s an unconventional Christmas show, which is what I like about it,” he said. “My humor and outlook on the world aligns with Sedaris a little more compared to something like ‘A Christmas Carol.’”
The truthfulness in the way Sedaris writes appeals to Bethmann. “Everybody knows the good side of Christmas,” he said. “We all have to deal with the bad side, and the story gets to deal with both.”
This interpretation reunites Methvin and Bethmann, who worked together earlier this year in Methvin’s production of “Significant Other” at Diversionary. While the success of “The Santaland Diaries” largely rests on their collaboration, they also give credit to stage manager, Beth Hall, for her contributions to Methvin’s vision.
A major difference between the two productions is that, although Bethmann was a supporting performer in “Significant Other,” he is now the focus of attention in the “The Santaland Diaries.”
“Bethmann is doing beautiful work of finding where the center of this human being is,” Methvin said. “It’s been beautifully challenging work, so I’m really grateful for the experience.”
Despite being featured in all kinds of plays, including Cygnet Theatre’s acclaimed productions of “Angels in America” and “The Virgin Trial,” Bethmann has never been a sole performer. “There is a lot of pressure, but the show flies by when running it, because it is so fun and funny,” he said. “If you have fun going into it, then everybody’s going to have fun with you.”
Diversionary’s rendition of “The Santaland Diaries” is far from a typical staging. The entire venue is holiday-themed and, before being seated, audience members are able to take a picture with Santa Claus.
After most performances, there will also be an additional event, “Linda Libby’s HoliGay Storytime,” which will be performed at the Diversionary Fritz Lounge. The local actress will read stories and sing songs that tie into the Christmas holiday.
Methvin does appreciate that the piece, despite its warped humor, still features an emotional payoff appropriate for the holidays.
“At the end, people are going to be examining the magic of Christmastime and how there’s something outside of our cynical brains that makes this season tick in a beautiful way,” he said.
Full of Sedaris’ wit, Methvin’s rendition is meant to give adult theatergoers a hilarious evening of fun. Regardless of how much you love this time of the year, you will likely have a great time with Crumpet.
For tickets and more information on “The Santaland Diaries,” visit diversionary.org or call 619-220-0097.
— A fan of film and theater from a very young age, David Dixon has written reviews and features for various print and online publications. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.