WEEKEND: Come to ‘SantaLand,’ if you dare

Chris Hawley contemplates Christmas time in New York City in “The SantaLand Diaries

Chris Hawley contemplates Christmas time in New York City in “The SantaLand Diaries

PORT TOWNSEND — How would it be for a grown man to become Crumpet, the elf in Santa’s Village at Macy’s?

It’s no cakewalk. Your coworkers are a small army of Santa Clauses, including one who takes himself a bit too seriously.

The guests are children and their folks, bound and determined to snap darling photos. Your task is to facilitate the merriment, department-store style.

Such are “The SantaLand Diaries,” David Sedaris’ bittersweet memoirs, and they’re arriving at the Key City Playhouse for a quick run this Saturday through Tuesday.

Key City Public Theatre artistic director Denise Winter likes to offer Olympic Peninsula residents and their visiting family something to do after all the Christmas presents are open and meals eaten.

So “SantaLand” is set for two matinees and two evening shows on the weekend, plus a couple of performances added Monday and Tuesday night.

Chris Hawley portrays our hero, a writer who moves to New York City in hopes of getting into show business. When that doesn’t immediately pan out, he answers an ad in the paper for Macy’s Christmas elves. He gets the job, along with a set of insights to American culture.

“I wear green velvet knickers, a forest green velvet smock, and a perky little hat decorated with spangles. This is my work uniform,” the story begins.

Crumpet finds Santa’s Village has many roles, among them Entrance Elf, Magic Window Elf, Photo Elf, Usher Elf and Emergency Exit Elf. The people portraying them come from all walks of life, he observes. The latest recession has hit New York hard.

“Most of the other elves are show business people, but several of them had real jobs at advertising agencies and brokerage firms. Bless their hearts. These people never in their wildest dreams figured there was a velvet costume waiting in their future,” Sedaris writes.

Hawley has always loved Sedaris, with his nothing-sacred brand of humor. When Winter told him she was thinking about presenting “The SantaLand Diaries” — first unleashed on the listening public when Sedaris read an excerpt on public radio’s “Morning Edition” in 1992 — he could scarcely contain himself.

So Christmas came early for the actor when, last spring, Winter gave him the “SantaLand” script. But memorizing Sedaris’ one-man play has proved tough.

“This is a difficult show for me, although it’s fairly short,” Hawley said.

“A full-length, two-hour play is much easier to memorize,” especially when it’s a story that goes from point A to point Z.

“This is different. It’s memoir,” said the actor, adding that seeing “SantaLand” is like watching a radio play — with everything in full view.

“I love connecting with the audience,” says Hawley, a native of Port Townsend.

In the snug Key City Playhouse, “you’re picking up on their facial expressions; you’re aware of their body language. You start hearing them,” consciously and subconsciously.

But Sedaris’ tart comedy won’t suit everyone.

This SantaLand is laced with Crumpet’s observations of mean parents, a flirtatious male elf called Snowball and just plain vicious shoppers. And it is definitely not for children, Hawley noted.

“It is an adult show,” with stories of apparent grownups, at their best and worst during the Christmas season.

In “The SantaLand Diaries,” Crumpet skewers his fellow elves, his customers and himself. In supreme Sedaris fashion, he describes Santa’s Village as a tragicomic place, a place where holiday fantasies are concentrated.

Over the years, “Diaries” has become a Christmas chestnut on public radio, and one of the most popular stories ever broadcast on NPR’s morning news show.

It was many listeners’ introduction to Sedaris, who went on to gain tremendous popularity with story collections such as Barrel Fever, Holidays on Ice, Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.

When he goes on the road to do readings and signings, the writer sells out places such as Seattle’s Benaroya Hall. When Sedaris came to Port Angeles in November 2012, he filled the high school Performing Arts Center, entertaining the crowd with anecdotes about living in France — and going to Frugal’s for dinner.

Sedaris is also a recipient of the Thurber Prize for American Humor, and was named 2001’s humorist of the year by Time magazine. He’s been nominated for three Grammy awards for his spoken-word albums, which include “David Sedaris: Live at Carnegie Hall.”

“The SantaLand Diaries,” meanwhile, has found much favor among theater companies around the nation, including Clallam County’s Readers Theatre Plus, which staged the show in 2013 with Richard Stephens as Crumpet.

“I’m thrilled to be in it,” Hawley said of this December’s Key City production.

“I’m really looking forward to bringing it to life.”

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