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Santaland Diaries: Not your usual Christmas Carol

The job from hell looks a lot like the North Pole. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Macy’s Department Store, and the elf is not happy.

David Sedaris’ “Santaland Diaries” is pure seasonal sass and John Earl Robinson, an actor from the Repertory Theater of Iowa, is bringing the shenanigans to the Kirkwood Theater stage.

Robinson, with an ever-changing mood from mischievous to huffy, sets the scene for a satirical ride through wonderland.

“When I was asked why I wanted to be an elf, I said it was one of the most frightening job opportunities I had ever come across in my life,” reads part of the opening scene from “Santaland.”

The grumpy main character, Crumpet the Elf, faces drunken Santas, crying kids and overbearing parents. In the play, as he changes into his work “uniform” of jingly green velvet, there’s a cross from reality to the wacky world of Christmas-making.

“You’re an elf, and you’re going wear panties as an elf,” Robinson said of one of his favorite scenes.

Sedaris’ hilariously true day-by-day account was originally read in 1992 on National Public Radio on the program “Morning Edition.” It was adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello. The one-hour monologue has since become an anti-Nutcracker of sorts.

“People get wound up around Christmas,” Robinson said. “The show is a good escape — blow off some steam.”

Robinson first brought the adapted story to the stage in 2003. He said the idea for the show was a series of fortunate circumstances. In 2002, John Bush, of comedy act Triple Espresso, encouraged Robinson to read the monologue. Robinson asked Bush to direct it.

“Frank Burnette was standing within earshot and said ‘Hell, I’ll produce it,’” Robinson said with a chuckle.

Other recent roles for Robinson include Sir John Falstaff in the Shakespeare on the Lawn production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” He’s assumed roles as Reverend Tooker in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” as the Ghost of Christmas Present in “A Christmas Carol” and as Rep. Benjamin Goldman in the political spoof “Caucus! The Musical.”

Brad Dell, assistant professor of theatre at Iowa State, directed this year’s “Santaland” production, along with theatrical design by Jay Michael Jagim.

“Our production designer is amazing,” Robinson said. “We’re turning around the Kirkwood Theater stage so there’s seating on three sides. The set is full with oversized Christmas presents and gaudy decorations.”

“Santaland” is more naughty than nice, with strings of sarcasm and a few swear words thrown in.

“I would say it’s PG-13 — just a little more crass that the usual Christmas show,” Robinson said.

For a sentimental balance to the evening, RTI Artistic Director Joseph Leonardi will open with Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory.”

Tickets for the doubleheader are $22 for general admission, $17 for seniors and $12 for students.

It’s the season of giving, and tickets are just $10 with any non-perishable food item or monetary donation during the matinee performances this Saturday and on Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. All proceeds will benefit the DMARC Emergency Food Pantry Network.

Get into the spirit with Crumpet the Elf

The Santaland Diaries & A Christmas Memory

Dec. 9-23

Evening Performances: December 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m.

Matinees: December 10, 11, 17 and 18 at 2:00 p.m.

The Kirkwood Theater  —  on the ground floor of the Kirkwood Hotel

400 Walnut St., Des Moines, IA. 50309


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