It’s been two years and ten other plays since he last wriggled into elf garb and Alley Company actor Todd Waite says he’s ready. “I sort of love it. Having had one year off for the renovations, it kind of feels new.” Yes, Waite is returning in his signature role of Crumpet the Elf in The Santaland Diaries, the Joe Mantello adaptation of the David Sedaris tale of his comical and poignant experiences when he worked in Macy’s as an elf one winter holiday season.
It’s a holiday alternative to A Christmas Carol showing on the large stage, and designed to appeal more to an adult appreciation of the holiday season.
Despite two years off, Crumpet has never exactly gone away in Houston, though, Waite says. “We had a request for Crumpet to appear with the opening of the new rail line. Crumpet appeared with Sheila Jackson Lee and Annise Parker. The character kind of moved outside the theater itself as a kind of ambassador for the theater. Crumpet narrated the Deborah Duncan Christmas special one year. And next week they have an interview on TV they want me to do as Crumpet.”
Asked why Crumpet, who isn’t always, well, sweet and nice, is so popular, Waite says: “Although Sedaris writes Crumpet with a lot of love and love of children and in his heart a lot of warmth, he also has that slightly jaundiced, acerbic, critical eye directed at the more extreme crass or kind of commercial, materialistic aspect. It’s sort of fun for adults to take a moment to be unsentimental about overly sentimentalized events and kind of speak the funny, hard truth about long lines and not getting the right present and people who get really bitchy over the holidays. And I think it’s nice to have a show that gives you permission to say, ‘Yes, Christmas and the holidays are all very well, but,’” Waite says.
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Over the years, audiences for this play have been sometimes less than reverent and it’s not unknown for them to call out things to Waite onstage. Somehow, he’s able to handle all this in style. “One of the blessings of doing it so many times, I will probably never be as relaxed on a stage in my life. When you're relaxed, you sort of just respond like you feel.”
“Two opening nights ago, right in the first 30 seconds, a cell phone went off and a guy took it out and I climbed over the arm rest and talked to the person on the other line,” Waite says. “That said, the script is pretty strict. There's very little leeway unless something like this happens where you have to respond or it seems odd to have not.”
“A huge section of the ticket sales now are people who’ve seen it at least once if not two, three or four times. People call me all the time in Whole Foods or on the street or in the coffee shop; they’ll say, ‘Hi, Crumpet.’” I will do Stoppard, I will do all the Sherlock, but I will always be known as Crumpet. To be honest, I sort of love it. We always say it's going to be the last year and this year may be, so I just encourage people who haven’t had a chance to come out and spend an hour with Crumpet, to come out because I really do love sharing that time with the audience. It’s a really lovely, fun, warm evening.” On New Year’s Eve there will be two performances set up to accommodate anyone who wants to join in the downtown New Year’s Eve festivities, Waite says.
Shows at 7:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on varied dates at the Alley Theatre, Neuhaus Stage, 615 Texas. Through December 31. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $26-$51.