Automatic Vaudeville and Theatre in the Park will reprise their hilarious joint December 2008 and 2010 presentation of The SantaLand Diaries, starring local comic actor extraordinaire Jesse R. Gephart, on Dec. 8-11 and 16-18 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre in Raleigh, NC.
Adapted for the stage in 1996 by Joe Mantello from a sardonic PG-13-rated Christmas story by former Raleigh resident, National Public Radio commentator, and author David Sedaris, The SantaLand Diaries is based on Sedaris’ autobiographical radio essay, first broadcast in 1992 on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” chronicling his merry misadventures as an out-of-work writer hired to play an elf named Crumpet in SantaLand in Macy’s in New York City. Sedaris subsequently published “The SantaLand Diaries” in Barrel Fever (1994) and Holidays on Ice (1997).
“I first worked on the show in 2001, when [Benson, NC-born New York actor and director] Eric Woodall did a co-production with TIP,” remembers Jesse Gephart. “I ran lights. I did it again in 2002.
“In 2003, while at Appalachian State University, I got to do the show as a fundraiser for a theater organization,” adds Gephart. “I did a repeat performance in 2004.
“When I graduated,” Gephart says, “I linked up with my long-time friend and co-conspirator in theater, Maggie Rasnick. We did the show at Raleigh Charter High School in 2005 and 2006. Then I made the big jump that began my current relationship with Theatre in the Park, where I did the show in 2008, 2010, and this year. So, technically, this is my fifth anniversary of performing the show in Raleigh!”
Jesse Gephart confesses, “I love that this show works as an ‘adult alternative’ to the normal Christmas fare. This area is able to house and support so many different varieties of Christmas theatrical events … but this is one of the few that is geared primarily towards a more adult sense of humor. It’s hilarious, irreverent, quirky; and, in the end, it has poignancy that you don’t see coming, which makes it even more effective.”
He adds, “[The SantaLand Diaries] is the true-life account of David Sedaris’ time working at Macy’s ‘SantaLand’ attraction as an elf. It begins with David (played by yours truly) browsing the want ads and coming across the call for applicants. We follow his interviewing process, his ultimate hire, and his journey through the ensuing Christmas chaos, as the days tick away. Along the way, we are introduced to many different elves, parents, children, Santa Clauses, all seen and commented on with a wry, cynical eye.”
The 2011 edition of The SantaLand Diaries reproduces the original direction by Maggie Rasnick. Others on the joint Automatic Vaudeville and Theatre in the Park creative team for the show include technical director and set and lighting designer Stephen J. Larson, master carpenter Jeffrey Nugent, costume designer Nancy Renn, sound engineer Will Mikes, voiceover talent D.H. Johnson, and stage manager Marilyn Gormon.
Jesse Gephart says, “The set is the most elaborate it has ever been! It’s three-quarter thrust, with a snowy hillside (that doubles as a staircase), a centrally located Santa cottage that revolves — on one side is the exterior, on the other is the inside of his little house, and a large Christmas tree with big presents underneath it. There is also a moveable wagon that works as the break room.”
He adds, “The costume was designed and constructed by Nancy Renn, who did an amazing job[; and t]he lighting is very warm, focused in on areas or used in a general wash. There’s also some magic thrown in there.”
“One-person shows are always difficult,” admits Jesse Gephart. “There is no other actor to lean on for support, should you need it. It’s real work to keep the pace moving, keep the audience engaged, and to tell the story effectively. Luckily, a show like this one still makes me laugh out loud while I’m doing it; and I have such a blast. It’s a real rush, an addictive circumstance, to be standing in front of a crowded house, delivering material that makes hundreds of people laugh.”
Gephart cautions, “This show is roughly rated ‘PG-13.’ It’s for all people with an excellent sense of humor. The show runs about one hour, with no intermission. Please arrive on time and silence all noise-making devices, because I will not hesitate to stop the show and make a spectacle out of the offender(s)!”
In reviewing the December 2010 production of The SantaLand Diaries, this reviewer wrote:
“… Jesse Gephart has fine-tuned and deepened his impersonation [since first performing the dual role of David/Crumpet in 2005, under the direction of Maggie Rasnick]. His increased confidence is palpable, and he was so comfortable in the role … that he twice stopped the show and broke character to harangue latecomers — much to the audience’s delight.
“Otherwise, Gephart got the audience rolling in the aisles — and kept them there — as he channeled David Sedaris at his snarkiest, proudly sitting in the seats of the scornful and delightfully dishing on the kookiest of his fellow elves, crazed Macy’s customers, deranged Santas, and Macy’s supervisors who take themselves entirely too seriously.
“… Nancy Renn’s flamboyant elf costume also enhanced the 2010 encore production of The SantaLand Diaries …. It was the perfect antidote for all those saccharine-sweet stories of redemption. Gephart as Sedaris and his sneering alter ego Crumpet revels at being the skunk at the garden party of Christmas plays — and audiences love it!”
Automatic Vaudeville and Theatre in the Park presents THE SANTALAND DIARIES, starring Jesse R. Gephart, at 8 p.m. Dec. 8-10, 3 p.m. Dec. 11, 8 p.m. Dec. 16 and 17, and 3 p.m. Dec. 18 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $20 ($15 students, seniors, active-duty military personnel, and TIP season subscribers).
BOX OFFICE: 919/831-6058 or http://www.etix.com/.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919/831-6058.
Automatic Vaudeville: N/A.
Theatre in the Park: http://www.theatreinthepark.com/.
The SantaLand Diaries: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SantaLand_Diaries (Wikipedia) and http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5066175 (1992 NPR reading by David Sedaris).
The Script (excerpts): http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
David Sedaris: http://www.barclayagency.com/sedaris.html (official bio courtesy the Barclay Agency), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Sedaris (Wikipedia), http://www.npr.org/programs/specials/lists/sedaris/ (National Public Radio), http://www.newyorker.com/ (essays from The New Yorker), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1358380/ (Internet Movie Database).
Jesse R. Gephart: http://facebook.com/jrgephart (Facebook page).
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