Direction by David Cromer is fiercely crisp and fast paced. The one hour show flies by, leaving the audience rolling in the aisles and wanting more. Playing in the round can be a daunting feat, but with David Cromer's direction Todd Waite and his undeniable charisma manages to evenly play to all four sides and he seems perfectly natural doing it. Even when his back is turned to you, he is still managing to engage you in the performance and draw you in.
Playing Crumpet the Elf, Todd Waite perfectly captures the sardonic wit of David Sedaris. He plays Crumpet with a flamboyant zeal, delivering each line flawlessly. He commands the stage with ease for the whole hour, especially when he gets the chance to interact with the audience and add in his own witty improvisations and clever adlibs. Todd Waite is brilliant and bombastic as Crumpet, making his irreverent social commentary delightfully relevant to each and every person in the audience. As the show reaches its finale, he deftly portrays Crumpets' semi Scrooge-like transformation from a scorned, tired, and worn out elf into a (briefly) caring and altogether good person. It is in these moments that Todd Waite is at his most tender and heartwarming, reminding us that the true Christmas miracle is that Crumpet didn't kill some inanely idiotic patron of Macy's.
Karen Rabe-Vance's Scenic Design is strikingly sparse, which works well for the show. Each of the corners is decorated with sensibly overstated department store style holiday décor. These elements do a great job reminding us of the setting, while leaving the performance space clear and open for Todd Waite to use as he needs. Likewise, there is one burgundy oversized chair with a green throw draped across it that serves as Santa's chair.
Blair Gulledge's Costume Design is pristine. Her velvet elf costume for Crumpet is exactly what the audience wants to see. Furthermore, the audience gets a great chuckle out of seeing Todd Waite change from his street clothes and into the elf costume.
Kevin Rigdon's Lighting Design is simplistic. The full stage is bathed in warm amber lights for most of the performance, ensuring that Todd Waite is always perfectly lit no matter where he is on the stage. For his surprise travels into the seating area, he is kept in light as well. These lights fade up and down with his movements. Lastly, the flashbulb effect provided by strobes works well.
Pierre Dupree's Sound Design is fantastic. His preshow music is delightful. Also, the interjections over the PA system about the approaching start time for the performance really conveys the idea of being in Macy's. Also, his slight underscoring with the hum of humans talking and shopping when appropriate is a fantastic and realistic addition to the production.
After this holiday run, The Alley Theatre is bidding a fond farewell to THE SANTALAND DIARIES. If you haven't seen it before, don't miss your last few chances. If you have seen it before, go and see it again. The cleverly comic show is sure to leave your sides splitting.
THE SANTALAND DIARIES runs on the Neuhaus Stage until December 30, 2012. The show is recommended for mature audiences due to language and subject matter. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.alleytheatre.org/ or call (713) 220 – 5700.