Bah humbug! Actors Theatre brings something for the Grinches

‘The Santaland Diaries’
Starring Oliver Wadsworth. Directed by Sean Daniels. Written by David Sedaris. An Actors Theatre of Louisville production that continues through Nov. 18. For more information, call 584-1205 or visit

Call me cynical, but Christmas plays have never floated my proverbial boat. It’s hard for me to sit through the sweetness-and-light that’s part and parcel of most holiday theater when I personally wouldn’t bat an eye if the holiday were completely abolished and done away with.

Fortunately, Grammy-award-nominated humorist David Sedaris is as cynical as I (perhaps even more so), and that cynicism helps propel this adaptation of his essay into greatness. Oliver Wadsworth plays the part of Sedaris and delivers, with impressive powers of memory, a lengthy monologue in which Sedaris reminisces about the time he worked as one of Santa’s overqualified elves in a children’s “sit on Santa’s lap” display at Macy’s department store. Lest you think this is not a subject that could support an entire play-length monologue, think again: I easily could have and would have stayed for another hour had it gone on that long. It’s that good.

Wadsworth, already known to Louisville audiences as one of the finest players Actors Theatre ever presented in a previous production of “Dracula,” brought his usual limitless wellspring of energy to this show, bounding around the stage, standing on boxes, leaping on toy trampolines and going into abrupt and unexpected miniature skits and routines within the structure of the play itself. If you’ve ever wondered what it must have been like to be a department store elf in 1980s New York (and I know you surely have), Wadsworth and Sedaris will tell all, girlfriend.

Many little touches help make the show special: the way the set’s floor genuinely resembles that of an old department store; the way costume designer Susan Neason conjured up authentic-looking “professional elf” togs; and how accurately and effectively Wadsworth manages to put across David Sedaris’ persona as a theatrical character right down to the accent. If you have even the most rudimentary sense of humor, you’ll find yourself involuntarily grinning at this show that manages to uplift one’s holiday spirit even as it takes scathingly sardonic potshots at everything the holiday season has come to represent in modern times.

Though the show is a one-man tour de force, there is another star, unseen, who dominates the proceedings every bit as much as Wadsworth. Director Sean Daniels is a real shot in the arm that Actors has needed, and his “Santaland Diaries” joins his previous outing, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” as two of the most fun baubles the theater has brought to the public in recent memory. I’m thrilled to see Daniels, who has worked in the past with edgy artists like Monty Python’s Graham Chapman and “South Park” co-creator Trey Parker, given full artistic freedom in Louisville. Let it continue to be so.

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