Santaland is coming to town

Portable show travels through Southeast this holiday season

Posted: Thursday, November 24, 2005

Just days into Perseverance Theatre's one-man, second-stage production of "SantaLand Diaries" last November, lead actor Ben Brown (Crumpet the Elf) was already talking about the possibility of taking the show on a tour of Southeast Alaska.

One year later, that wish has come true. "SantaLand," with Brown in tights and director Sarah Denhardt in tow, will take a four-day spin through bars in Juneau, Auke Bay and Douglas before embarking on a seven-town, nine-performance tour of Wrangell, Petersburg, Ketchikan, Gustavus, Skagway, Haines and Sitka.

"It is ironic that we're not going to Elfin Cove," Brown said.

"Hoonah is the only place that we had thrown out there which didn't pan out," he said. "But it is entirely possible that we could do this another year, and we could try Hoonah in the future."

Adapted by New York playwright Joe Mantello from a short story by author David Sedaris, "SantaLand" recounts Sedaris' true experience as a part-time holiday helper elf in the Santa's village display at the New York department store Macy's. At times bitter and at other times existential, his observations, like all of his writing, paint a fine commentary on the instincts of consumerism and the nature of his fellow man.

'Santaland Diaries'

Perserverance Theatre

What: "SantaLand Diaries," presented by Perseverance Theatre, written by David Sedaris, adapted by Joe Mantello

Juneau: 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Dec. 1-2, at the Alaskan Hotel & Bar, 167 Franklin St., 21 and over; 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, at Squires Rest, 11806 Glacier Highway, Auke Bay, 21 and over; 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, at The Island Pub, 1102 Second St., Douglas, all ages with a guardian. All shows $10 at the door.

Wrangell: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7, at James & Elsie Nolan Center, 296 Outer Drive, Wrangell. $10 tickets at box office (907) 874-3699, Jitterbugs and the door, all ages.

Petersburg: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8, at Petersburg High School Band Room, 109 Charles W. St., Petersburg. $10 at high school office, Lee's Clothing and the door, all ages.

Ketchikan: 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, at First City Saloon, 830 Water St., Ketchikan. $10 at the door, 21 and over; 12 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11, at WestCoast Cape Fox Lodge, 800 Venetia Way, Ketchikan. Price: $25 for lunch and performance. Call Karen at (907) 225-8001 for reservations, all ages.

Gustavus: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14, at Gustavus School Multi-Purpose Room. $10 adults, $5 kids, all ages.

Skagway: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15, at Eagles Hall. $10 at the door, all ages.

Haines: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16, at Chilkat Center for the Arts. $10 at The Babbling Book (907) 766-3356, and the door, all ages.

Sitka: 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, at Kadataan Lounge/Westmark Hotel, 330 Seward St., Sitka, $25 general admission includes drink and snack; (907) 747-6241 for reservations, 21 and over; 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18, at Sheet'ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Community House, 200 Katlian St., Sitka, $10 at Old Harbor Books (907) 747-8808 and at the door, all ages.

"A year's time off is a really great way to be able to refreshen one's approach to the text," Brown said. "There's no reason for it to be exactly the same. There are reasons to make it different. Anybody who saw it last year need not fear that they're going to see the same show."

The hour-long play opens with two nights at the Alaskan Hotel & Bar, 167 Franklin St., on Thursday-Friday, Dec. 1-2; visits Squires Rest, 11806 Glacier Highway, Auke Bay, on Saturday, Dec. 3, then stops at The Island Pub, 1102 Second St., Douglas, on Sunday, Dec. 4.

All four of those are $10 at the door. Seating, of course, is limited. The shows at the Alaskan and Squires are 21 and over.

Denhardt and Brown are the lone crew members that will travel with the play from Dec. 7-18.

Denhardt will run the sound and the lights, where applicable. This is her first visit to these towns, outside of the Ketchikan and Sitka airports. She came to Juneau for the first time last winter to stage "SantaLand" at the Phoenix Room. She's now the theater's director of production and lives here full-time.

"I have no idea what the people in these towns are going to do," Denhardt said. "That's sort of the X-factor. How are these communities going to respond to an elf from Macy's?"

The production is easily portable. The props include a coat rack, where Crumpet hangs his absurd hat and vest combination; a small flip-top chest; a framed picture of soap star Victoria Buchanan, Crumpet's idol; and a supply of candy canes. They will use whatever tables and chairs are available at each venue.

"When it comes to some of these spaces in Sitka and Ketchikan and the band room at Petersburg High School or the activities room in Gustavus, I have no idea how it will play out," Brown said. "I have heard from some other people that they think of it as being more of a monologue than an active piece. I enjoy doing it with blocking and with some strong liberal movement choices. So I have no intention of abandoning that theatricality, just because we're getting on a plane and flying from one community to the next."

David Paul, artistic intern at the theater, did much of the planning and logistics work to set up the tour.

"Really, all the communities were excited about bringing any kind of performance to their town," Paul said. "It's a very East Coast-kind of text, it's a New York-kind of story, but David Sedaris has proven to be extremely popular all over the country," he said. "Every town I've spoken to has people that know who David Sedaris is, and they like his work."

"It's an easy touring show," Denhardt said. "It's something new for smaller communities that haven't seen the story yet. Anchorage and Fairbanks have had their own productions."

The Fairbanks Drama Association presented "SantaLand," with Andrew Cassel as Crumpet, last December. Anchorage has seen several versions of the play.

Sedaris was a broke, struggling, self-medicating, wannabe-writer when he spotted a classified ad in a newspaper sometime in the 1980s and took a seasonal job as an elf in Macy's over-the-top, in-store Santa's village. He chronicled the experience and eventually read excerpts of the story on National Public Radio in 1992. It was so popular, he was offered a book contract.

Since then, he's written five hilarious, quasiautobiographical books, filled with misadventures of growing up one of six children and outwardly gay. The latest, "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim," came out in the summer of 2004. Sedaris is also a frequent contributor to NPR's "This American Life."

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