By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
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What goes around comes around, this time in a bittersweet and comical way.
The night before Thanksgiving 2012, humorist David Sedaris came to town, filling the Port Angeles High School Performing Arts Center with several hundred fans. The throng of listeners included Richard Stephens, local actor, director, costume designer and retail store manager.
Stephens stepped up to serve as stage manager at Sedaris’ show, and admired the performer’s way with his audience. First Sedaris had them laughing at his offbeat family stories; then he stayed after to sign copies of his books and converse with each person in the long line.
So when Jim Dries, cofounder of Readers Theatre Plus, spoke of producing Sedaris’ “The SantaLand Diaries” after Thanksgiving 2013, Stephens just about swooned.
In “SantaLand,” Sedaris writes of his misadventures as Crumpet, a Macy’s department store elf. He takes this job because he’s an out-of-work actor in New York City. He also takes a lot of guff from the people who troop through SantaLand.
Stephens can relate. He manages the Serenity House Thrift Store in Port Angeles. Like Crumpet, he’s expected to be merry and bright, all season, all the time with all of the customers.
“Several times, I have wanted to shout out the things that this character says” in SantaLand, Stephens admits.
The actor will bring Crumpet to the stage tonight for the first of six performances. The first three are to be at the Dungeness Schoolhouse, 2781 Towne Road, north of Sequim: curtain is at
7:30 tonight and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday.
Then “SantaLand” comes to Studio Bob, 1181/2 E. Front St. in Port Angeles, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday,
Dec. 6-7, and finally at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8.
Tickets are $12.50 per person or two for $20 at Odyssey Books, 114 W. Front St., Port Angeles, and Pacific Mist Books, 121 W. Washington St. in Sequim. Remaining tickets will be sold for $12.50 each at the door.
With its mature themes and spicy language, Dries notes, “The SantaLand Diaries” is not for children.
As is traditional with Readers Theatre Plus productions, proceeds will benefit a local charity: Puppy Pilots, the Sequim-based trainers of guide dogs for the blind. Coordinator Deb Cox even plans on bringing some of her young dogs to the performances.
“The SantaLand Diaries” are like a spritzer that cleanses the palate of holiday gooeyness, Stephens says. Sedaris’ humor is tart, his eye jaundiced — but at the end of this elf’s story, something good and unexpected happens.
The diaries wrap up in a place where the Christmas spirit thrives, Stephens says. But he and his character must walk a bumpy path first. Which is why Stephens is feeling grateful about another what-goes-around facet of this story.
“SantaLand” reunited Stephens with Pat Owens, a longtime friend who is the show’s director.
Owens is supportive and generous, Stephens said, adding that “as a seasoned, veteran actor, he knows how to get what he wants from actors in the most calm and gentle ways.”
The roles are reversed: “I had the pleasure of directing [Owens] in ‘Oliver!,’” with the Port Angeles Light Opera Association in 2007, Stephens recalls.
“Now, we have come full circle,” he says. As an elf, “I get to sit under his tutelage.”