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“The SantaLand Diaries” Stars Jesse R. Gephart

"The SantaLand Diaries" opens Dec. 9th

"The SantaLand Diaries" opens Dec. 9th

Automatic Vaudeville and Theatre in the Park will reprise their hilarious joint December 2006 presentation of The SantaLand Diaries, starring critically acclaimed local comic actor Jesse R. Gephart, on Dec. 9-12 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 read David Sedaris’ book of essays, including the piece that SantaLand is based on in 1997,” recalls director Maggie Rasnick. “I remember laughing out loud as I read about his experiences as an Elf at Macys, especially the section about the product used to clean up after nauseous children — Vamooose! I laughed at that for about five minutes.

“Jesse [Gephart] started working on the stage adaptation with Eric Woodall while he was still in high school and then he began doing the piece himself in college,” explains Rasnick. “The year after he graduated from Appalachian [State University in Boone], we decided to do the show together; and we put it up in my classroom at Raleigh Charter [High School].”

Rasnick notes, “We did that for two years, including one production that Thomas Mauney designed. (My kids claimed that it looked like Christmas had thrown up in my room.) Two years ago, we produced the show at Theatre in the Park for the first time. We sold out three of the four performances.”

Maggie Rasnick says, “… [T]his piece is irreverent, unflinchingly honest, and laugh-out-loud funny — with a message to boot. It’s roughly ‘rated’ a PG-13, and not intended for children or those without a sense of humor. If you’re looking for the perfect grown-up Holiday show, this is the piece for you.

She adds, “I love the snarky humor in Sedaris’ material. I love the way it can make people laugh out loud, gasp at the lack of Political Correctness, and weep at the genuine emotion at the end of the piece. Sedaris is a fantastic observational humorist, and with the right actor the material is hilarious.

“I love Jesse Gephart,” Rasnick admits. “I love working with Jesse Gephart. He was born to do theater and specifically to do this piece. We have known each other for over 12 years, and it is such a joy to watch him mature into his significant talent. Even after watching him do this 100 times, he still makes me laugh so hard I can’t breathe with certain sections of this material. It’s just straight up fun to do this with him….

“At the top of the show,” says director Maggie Rasnick, “we meet David [Jesse Gephart] as he recounts finding the job listing for Macy’s ‘SantaLand’ attraction. We travel with him through garnering an interview, the actual interview (as well as a few others vying for a coveted elf position), into hiring, and throughout the Christmas season. All along, the audience is introduced to other elves, otherworldly Santa Claus’, frantic parents, and wild children. [The SantaLand Diaries is] 70 minutes full of fun, laughter, and some poignancy for good measure.”

In addition to director Maggie Rasnick, the Automatic Vaudeville and Theatre in the Park creative team for The SantaLand Diaries includes technical director and set and lighting designer Thomas Mauney, costume designer Nancy Renn, voiceover talent Ira David Wood III, sound engineer Will Mikes, and stage manager Andy Hayworth.

Rasnick says, “This year, the set consists of a lot of draped fabric — with a little magic involved, of course. The fabric will act as a cyclorama of sorts to take color and throw templates on….

“The lighting will be heavy, full, and bright,” says Rasnick. “We’ll be using lighting more this year than any year before. The lighting will help accentuate and enhance the magic.”

Maggie Rasnick adds, “[Costume designer] Nancy Renn has created a beautifully crafted costume that is, needless to say, the best one I’ve had yet. Without giving too much away, let’s just say it’s full of Christmas colors, candy-cane stripes, balled fringe, and much, much more. You definitely have to see it to believe it.”

She notes, “All one-person shows are inherently in danger of being really static, especially when there is so much exposition. It is critical to find the action in the story and to challenge the actor to play every single beat in the piece. I also think that when someone has done the show as much as Jesse has, part of the challenge is to keep it fresh, to make new discoveries, and to keep developing the complexities and details of this particular story.

“In terms of design,” Maggie Rasnick adds, “it’s important to somehow create the sense of transformation that occurs when we first enter SantaLand and then again toward the end of the piece when he talks about the final Santa in his story. Thomas Mauney, our designer, is a genius. Our costumer, Nancy Renn, is a genius. The show is going to look amazing.”

SECOND OPINION: Dec. 15, 2006 Raleigh, NC Classical Voice of North Carolina review by Robert W. McDowell:

Automatic Vaudeville and Theatre in the Park presents THE SANTALAND DIARIES, starring Jesse R. Gephart, at 8 p.m. Dec. 9 and 10, 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 11, and 2 p.m. Dec. 12 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), except group rates for parties of 10 or more.

BOX OFFICE: 919/831-6058 or


PRESENTERS: Automatic Vaudeville: N/A. Theatre in the Park:




The SantaLand Diaries: (Wikipedia) and (1992 NPR reading by David Sedaris).

The Script (excerpts): (Google Books).

David Sedaris: (official bio courtesy the Barclay Agency), (Wikipedia), (National Public Radio), (essays from The New Yorker), (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and (Internet Movie Database).


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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