When Thanksgiving arrives more than a month before Christmas — as is the case this year — the winter holiday frenzy becomes a marathon of merriment.
Adults seeking brief respite from this madness can find it in Monmouth, where a foul-mouthed elf will provide perspective, levity and more laughs than the total number of gift birds amassed by the final verse of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
In recent years, the Theater at Monmouth has tried to inject some “ho, ho, ho” into the holiday season with a seasonal stage comedy. This year, the theater’s gift to harried revelers is “The Santaland Diaries,” written by David Sedaris based on the short story of the same name and adapted by Joe Montello with Dawn McAndrews directing.
Even though this one-act features the guy in the red suit, you don’t have to celebrate Christmas to enjoy the irreverent humor of the show.
As McAndrews writes in her director’s notes, Sedaris, “points out the absurdity in the everyday, the ridiculous in the ordinary […] reminding us to focus on the true values of the season: family, love, generosity, warmth, and joy“.
Based on Sedaris’ own experiences, “The Santaland Diaries” follow the trials and, er, more trials of an unemployed artist who takes a job as an elf during the holiday season at Macy’s. Sedaris’ storytelling cocktail comes with a healthy splash of bitters, but it’s the perfect counterpoint to the cavalcade of sweetness we’re fed during the run-up to Christmas.
The balance he achieves provides the audience with ample laugh-out-loud moments, garnished with poignant celebrations of human nature and spirit.
Dubbed “Crumpet,” Santa’s sardonic helper dons a silly costume, plasters on a smile as authentic as indoor snow, and handles the long lines of tired, cranky, overheated and stressed adults and their excited children.
Interactions with lusty co-workers, burnout Santas, and an unfortunate episode with a celebrity make for holiday hijinks. This play is for mature elves only.
Mike Anthony hitched a sleigh ride from New York City to embody the harried elf in the great Maine woods. Based on his hilarious biographical notes, it may not be a stretch for Anthony to play a starving actor willing to take any employment opportunity, even one that includes wearing tights.
This comedic role clearly comes easily to him. Thankfully, Anthony doesn’t try to deliver the narration as a Sedaris impersonator. Instead, he makes the role his own, often speaking subversively to the audience to draw them into sharing his tribulations in dealing with pushy parents and others with unrealistic holiday expectations.
He also injects some physical humor into the performance, embellishing the narration with bumbled attempts to be spritely that highlight the absurdity of asking humans to behave like elves.
Anthony often had the audience chuckling like department store Santas who had just received their Christmas bonuses.
Minimal set design and snippets of Christmas songs and store announcements keep the focus on the unsung hero of the holidays: Santa’s little helper working hard to keep the line moving while muttering sarcastic comments. This production updates the original to reflect cultural and technological advances since Sedaris’ elfin experience.
Laughter is the best antidote to holiday stress. So are caffeine and sugar cookies, provided after the play in the lovely Cumston Hall, where one can also find gifts for loved ones.
Like new-fallen Christmas snow, the chance to enjoy “The Santaland Diaries” is fleeting. Performances run through Dec. 3. For ticket information, visit theateratmonmouth.org/tickets/.
Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.