The Santaland Diaries

Move Over Scrooge: The Alley Theatre’s Todd Waite is the new humbug in town

When it comes to David Sedaris’s The Santa-land Diaries, actor Todd Waite knows his role. “[The] star of the show is his writing,” Waite says. “Just the line — to pick a line — ‘It breaks my heart to see a grown man dressed as a taco.’”

Waite, an eight-year Alley Theatre veteran who was recently named a Lunt-Fontanne Fellow, will tackle the one-man stage adaptation of Sedaris’s account of working as a Christmas elf at Macy’s in New York. Santaland Diaries launched Sedaris into the literary spotlight after he read it on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. Since then, he has released seven collections of essays and has become a regular contributor to The New Yorker and NPR’s This American Life. Fans of Sedaris can understand how his success creates a bit of a challenge for Waite. He must find the balance between making the character something new and something his own without bastardizing the original work.

“When you put it onstage, and you put it in a costume, and you put it in lights, and you put it with sound effects, you’re already freed up from being a copy of him because the nature of it demands a different delivery,” Waite says. “It cannot be as neutral or as dry.”

Waite finds the balance between new and old while retaining what he thinks is essential to the piece. “The great thing [Sedaris] does is balance this kind of bitter with the humanity,” he says. The play is filled with instances when Sedaris is at once judgmental and understanding. Waite uses the example of a part where a mother is yelling at her child: “‘Goddammit Rachel, you sit on that man’s lap and smile or I’ll give you something to cry about’…It’s not about the child or Christmas or Santa or anything but the parent’s idea of a world that they cannot make work for them,” he says, reciting Sedaris. “It’s incredible how fast he drops into this real place and kind of sits there for a moment and then bounces you right back and suddenly you go from this complete asshole character that slaps and shakes her daughter to get a good picture, to sort of saying, ‘Well, it’s tough out there for parents.’”

Waite’s confident interpretation of the piece likely comes from his time spent with it. He’s been memorizing the 30-plus-page script since the summer. “I took this with me to Nantucket [on vacation] and [had to say] ‘Sorry, I can’t go on that polo trip, I have to memorize a list of elves,’” Waite jokingly complains. Our interview was the day of his first rehearsal, and he said he almost had all of it down. “I still have to do the last five pages,” he says. “But I still have an hour after this.” 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 6 and 9 p.m. Fridays; 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Through December 28. 615 Texas. For tickets and information, call 713-220-5700 or visit www.alleytheatre.org. $30 to $45.
Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: Dec. 2. Continues through Dec. 28, 2008

 
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