Joe Leary as Crumpet the Elf in The Santaland Diaries.
Photo by Tony Nelson
Over the past few years, Wendy Knox has become quite familiar with David Sedaris's The Santaland Diaries. She has directed the stage adaptation in three cities, at five different venues, and with four different actors in the role.
Still, the material hasn't become old hat for the Frank Theatre founder and director. "Doing it with different actors does change it. There is a basic template I might use throughout, but the different actors bring different rhythms and different things they find funny," Knox says.
Last week, Knox opened a production of the show in Portland, Oregon. This weekend, Frank opens its production, with Joe Leary again in the lead, at the Southern Theater.
The play, adapted from Sedaris's popular essay, follows the author's time as "Crumpet the Elf" in Macy's "Santaland" in New York City. Since it debuted on All Things Considered in 1992, Santaland Diaries has become a popular Christmas-season piece.
"I don't know if it is the greatest script in the world, but it is a good story. And it is funny in a good, snarky way," Knox says.
The experience with the show -- this is Knox's eighth production -- means she knows the various pitfalls that can come with a production.
"Sedaris loves mischief. I have to keep reminding the actors to have that love of mischief or it kind of falls flat," Knox says. "In storytelling, you have to be in the lap of the audience. You have to engage them. The actors have to remember that there's another character in the room, and that's the audience."
Another important piece is the tone. "At the time Sedaris was writing this, he had an outsider perspective on it. He considers himself an outsider too. That removes some of the sting of what he is saying. When we auditioned the show for Syracuse, we went to New York City. The actors who came in would read it so bitchy and mean spirited that you lose it," Knox says.
Along with Crumpet, Leary has been featured on a number of local stages -- including the History Theatre and Theatre Latte Da -- along with several turns off Broadway, on television, and in films.
This year also marks a new venue for the show, which moves to the Southern Theater for the first time. It's a kind of return for Frank, which did many of its early shows in the space. "We kind of grew up there. We haven't been there for 12 years. It's been really fun to get back in the building," Knox says.
What audiences will get is what keeps drawing the director to the play. "It's a nice compact 70 minutes in and out. Even with the wit and sarcasm and snark, there is a heart in there," Knox says.
IF YOU GO
The Santaland Diaries
Through Dec. 23
1420 S. Washington Ave., Minneapolis
For tickets and information, call 612.724.3760 or visit online.