Frank Theatre's Wendy Knox readies 'The Santaland Diaries'

After years of presenting work like Mother Courage, Fucking A, and The Pillowman, Frank Theatre turns to the holidays for David Sedaris' The Santaland Diaries at Hennepin Stages in Minneapolis. We recently talked to director and Frank leader Wendy Knox about how the show fits into the theater's overall mission, and the challenges that came with bringing the piece to the stage.


City Pages: A holiday show and Frank Theatre don't seem to go together. Explain.

Wendy Knox: Just yesterday, as we were rehearsing, I was explaining something to Joe Leary, who plays Crumpet. I caught myself discussing the analysis of the script using terms like "on the meta-journey to Elfdom..." and he would respond to things I said with things like, "Well, that reference is the general template of Santa which is distinguished later on into Santa Randy, etc." I burst out laughing, saying "Who would think that we would be discussing the script of Santaland in these terms?" But we are.

In terms of how this fits into Frank's reputation for doing difficult work, well, our mission is to do work that challenges the actor and the audience, and to explore some kind of social, political, or cultural issue. In The Santaland Diaries, as in his other works, I feel like Sedaris is holding a mirror up to us, to American consumerist culture, and reflecting our questionable behaviors back to us, which is certainly very Frank. Frank is often more likely to present a darker version of that picture, but the dynamic is the same.

CP: You've directed The Santaland Diaries twice before, how has that helped you in this production?

WK: When I first tackled the piece at Syracuse Stage with actor Wade McCollum, we didn't know what we were going to do with it. We invented some amazing character histories for people who appear as one line quotations in the story -- perhaps as much to amuse ourselves as anything else. Doing the play twice has definitely helped me steer Joe -- who's a very smart, adept actor -- clear of the obstacles, challenges, and pitfalls that we've previously encountered.

CP: What makes this a good holiday show?

WK: Well, the piece is funny, and it's sometimes just plain wrong. It says things that we have all thought, but don't say. And it pokes fun at the things we do. One of the things about this piece is that it cannot be done with a whit of meanness or bitterness. While Sedaris does have an outsider perspective, he includes himself in the collection of misfits that make up our world, so that while he is pointing out the ridiculous, it is done with a sense of glee at what freaks we humans really are.

CP: How do you set the production apart from Sedaris' well-known reading of the work?

WK: The storytelling dynamic is incredibly important to this piece, but we've also looked for ways to embroider that with physical and vocal aspects. It can be a gymnastic piece for an actor: remembering what voice to use, how the focus shifts, who's talking in what direction, who's answering, and so forth.

CP: What will audiences get out of the show?

WN: They're gonna get some good laughs and they won't get that sugar low that you get after eating too much candy.

The Santaland Diaries starts this Friday and runs through December 31.