Todd Waite Pokes Xmas in the Eye Once More as Crumpet the Elf in Santaland Diaries
Actor Todd Waite stars again as Crumpet the Elf
Photo by Jann Whaley
The set-up: He's back! That 39-year-old gay schlub, down on his luck who aches for TV soap stardom, finds his calling over the holidays in a temp job from hell as an elf at Macy's Santaland, the place where Christmas spirit goes to die.
In David Sedaris' profane, hilarious, and politically incorrect dissection of rampant consumerism, based on his own exploits, "Crumpet the Elf" explains it all for you. With Alley Theatre pro Todd Waite in star mode (spelled in some performances by Alley vet Paul Hope), the monologue, adapted by Joe Montello, zooms by with crackling wicked fun. Christmas just isn't Christmas without this jaundiced poke in the eye.
The execution: Where to start? "A person needs a skill," our unnamed protagonist says early on, hand casually placed on hip á la Jean Harlow. He needs a job badly, and, really, how hard is it to be an elf? Harder than you think. First there's that Elfin Guide to follow without question -- the Macy's Bible of model behavior for all elves toiling in Santaland. You must exude relentless good cheer at all times -- even when the little darlings waiting to see Santa vomit from excitement or pee on the floor. You must tolerate psychotic co-workers -- spitting Santas and warranted sexual advances from fellow elf Snowball. And then there's that demeaning green velvet costume with its candy cane-striped leggings and goofy medieval hat. What grown man would ever wear such a thing? (Costumer Blaire Gulledge knows how to design tacky.)
As the shopping days count down, the crowds of exasperated parents with shell-shocked tots get more frantic, as does our Crumpet. In ever impressionistic scenes, we're regaled with opinions, dish, and wry observations. His "grinding enthusiasm" has a very short, funny fuse.
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Waite has a field day in this role, a characterization he's honed razor-sharp after four years of donning those tights. He's comfortable enough with Crumpet to play him like an elastic band, ad-libbing with the audience and swishing through the routines with incomparable timing. Haloed in a pin spot and enveloped in cigarette smoke, his Billie Holiday rendition of "Away in the Manger" is a classic of some kind -- don't ask how this comes to be. Put upon and sometimes as wonderstruck by the pandemonium of holiday cheer as the wayward adults and frightened kids, he's immensely likeable. The minimal design by Karin Rabe-Vance uses large ornaments, some sparkly lights, and a modest Santa throne to set the scene (that phallic candy cane is a hoot), but it's Waite's show all the way, guided with gleeful mischief by director David Cromer. His Crumpet glistens with bitchy radiance and wide-eyed bemusement. The verdict: The Alley is putting Crumpet back in the attic after this year, so, if you've never experienced his elfin exploits, now is the time to go and laugh yourself silly. If this show has become your holiday tradition of choice, Santaland Diaries, naughty and nice, requires a final farewell ho-ho-ho.
Crumpet, we'll miss you. You've made the season bright.
David Sedaris' sardonic look at the ultimate temp job from hell plays through December 30 at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. Purchase tickets online at alleytheatre.org or call 713-220-5700. $29-$48.
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