It’s that time of year when our local theatres celebrate the holidays with every possible interpretation of every possible holiday story. From A Christmas Story, to It’s a Wonderful Life to A Christmas Carol and beyond, your performing arts space of choice is almost guaranteed to have some version of theatrical eggnog for you to consume. For City Lights Theatre Company in San Jose, the eggnog is definitely spiked with sass and satire with their production of The Santaland Diaries.
The slant of this comedy is dark and sarcastic which I fully appreciated and if you’re familiar with and enjoy David Sedaris you’re likely to find the delivery of the main plot to be entertaining. Our head elf, who is charged with delivering 80% of the show, does a great job of capturing the acerbic, snarky and self-deprecating voice of the material. His rapport with the audience is confident and engaging and he’s easy to watch and listen to.
Though I was on board with 90% of the show it was a small 10% that definitely irritated me. The choice to put musical interludes into this show left me making a face and shaking my head. Although our small chorus of Ho Ho Ho’s sang well and delivered each song fully committed to the cheek and cheese of the campy lyrics, it didn’t seem to do anything for the show. The contrasting amateurish and ridiculousness of the songs next to the sharp wit of the narration didn’t mesh at all. It just wasn’t funny even as an example of the overbearing cheer that was at the center of the satire. The clever sarcasm of this show would have been much better served without the songs in my opinion. That being said the majority of the non-singing bit parts the Ho Ho Ho’s played were full of great timing, fun physical caricatures, and added some good dimensionality.
Admittedly, this play probably appeals significantly more to the adults with kids crowd. There’s a theme of commiseration for the long-suffering parent who endure long lines and tantrum hurling toddlers all in the pursuit of a picture with santa for the holiday card. While I certainly found the scenarios amusing (and those of working retail) there was a definite percentage of the audience that nearly split a seam having identified a bit too closely to family outing having gone terribly, terribly, wrong.
At the end of the day this show does have a target audience but, it’s not me. My suggestion for enjoying this show includes getting a sitter for the kids and a cab for you and your spouse so you can enjoy some adult beverages while you take in this 90 minutes of parents anonymous. For me, 3 out of 5 jewels in the tiara for a show I was glad I saw, but left me unsatisfied. The Santaland Diaries plays through December 18th at City Lights Theatre in San Jose.