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‘The SantaLand Diaries,’ shaken, not stirred

Through Dec. 30, Robin Hebert continues to transform himself from an ordinary person into a Christmas Elf by the name of Crumpet.

If you have met Robin, you know that being an elf is probably not a stretch. Well, perhaps an imp is more appropriate. Since Dec. 15, he’s donned the green velvet smock and candy-cane tights in Thingamajig Theatre Company’s “The SantaLand Diaries,” originally written by David Sedaris and adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello and directed by yours truly.

This one-man show fills a real need at this time of year as an antidote to excessive syrupy sentimentality. It’s the perfect show to see, especially if you feel a bit overexposed to the usual plethora of Christmas Carols, Nutcrackers, Grinches etc. and yearn for something fresh and different, even if it means having a few laughs at Santa’s expense.

After watching the show night after night from the tech booth, I thought it might be fun to interview Robin as Crumpet the Elf and ask some of the questions I’ve heard from audience members and friends alike. This is certainly not a show for children who still believe in Santa, or want to. Instead it is the perfect destination for older Santa-wise children and those of us with PTSS: post traumatic Santa syndrome. I for one have never recovered from the day that I learned that, not only is Santa a myth, but that my very own parents were capable of lying to their own trusting children.

“Santa thinks of all of us as one big family. And he hopes everyone will love others as much as they love themselves,” answers Robin.

So, come with Thingamajig Theatre Company as we go back to those days of innocence, and talk with Robin … oops, I mean Crumpet the elf. It’s a show that will give your Christmas new meaning.

For now, however, let’s see if he can give you a flavor of what is to come. I place a call to Crumpet and asked him to tell us the secrets of the roly-poly man in the red suit, and how he can bend time to make personal visits to all the billions of children in the world in just one night.

“What a perfect day to call,” Robin answers. “There’s snow on the ground in Pagosa, and it is making me feel all festive …”

He slowly moves into his character of Crumpet. I suggest that, from the Sedaris story, Crumpet seems perplexed by the whole business of Christmas.

“True, at least until the end, when he has an epiphany.”

I admitted that I had not heard the original tale when David Sedaris first read it on NPR.

“Good, then you won’t be comparing me to the author of the written word, instead of the actor of the performed word.”

With a handful of holiday questions submitted by friends and patrons I asked Robin to assume his role of Crumpet for me and answer them. I explained that my friends figured him to be their best chance at getting the truth, since he is so close to Santa.

“I am close to many Santas, some of whom I prefer to keep my distance from, but it is all in a workday,” Robin shot back.

Vodka, with candy cane twist.

What snack does Santa like to find left for him? Is it milk and cookies or a shot of vodka?

“That depends on which Santa you are talking to. Overall, though, it is definitely milk and cookies. Save that shot of vodka for myself. I need all the liquid courage I can muster to push him back up that darn chimney.”

Does he really check his list twice, or does he use a computer now?

“You know, Santa is old school. He is about 617 years old and doesn’t take to change easily. And all us elves are pretty sure he is lying on the younger side, as we all do. But the real problem is that his eyes aren’t so good, so checking the list twice is an understatement. Along with his eyes, his memory isn’t quite as good either.”

How did Santa get to be Santa?

“Santa makes Christmas so much fun! Some people think he is like the Dalai Lama and was born into Santadom, but I don’t think he was. The whole Santa backstory is pretty close lipped and it is hard to get close enough to him to find out the truth. It’s best to approach him when it’s a non-holiday. And that’s when that gin comes in real handy, too.”

How many elves work for Santa?

“Do you want me to include the sweatshop elves? If you want me to include them all that could be a problem, since they are not on the books, you see. And I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.”

What happens if an elf or a reindeer gets sick?

“We try not to, though I personally get sick and tired quite often.”

Elves shoes are a touchy subject.

Those funny shoes that elves wear, are they custom made or off the shelf?

“I think that is a baiting question, there is nothing funny about our shoes, sir. They are very stylish.”

Does Santa have any brothers or sisters?

“Well, he considers everyone his brother and sister. He really thinks of all of us as one big family. And he hopes everyone will love others as much as they love themselves.”

Why do the elves wear tights?

“We do a lot of running around and the tights help us keep warm when we have to go from inside out into all that snow. They also help us be really nimble, like when we have to slide across the floor to get stuff. Doing that with bare legs can be quite painful. Splinters and all that, you know.

“Not everyone can be an elf, you know ...”

Jobs are scarce these days, are you hiring, what does Santa look for?

“Well, anyone can apply, but you have to show us you are good with other elves and most people fall short in that area. We also have to be good with parents, and that’s a real talent. Of course, if the people skills are in short supply, there are plenty of jobs behind the scenes too. Just not as glamorous.”

Do elves have a philosophy of life?

“Absolutely. First rule: nose to the grindstone. Second rule: Don’t let the big man get you down.”

And what do elves do on their day off?

“On their what? What’s a day off?”

Every week you are supposed to get two days off.

“Oh, we don’t go by people calendars or ‘weeks’ and I think our days are a little bit longer . Could be because there is no sun at the North Pole this time of year and I am on the night shift.”

About ‘SantaLand Diaries’

“The SantaLand Diaries” is the occasionally subversive, alarmingly clever, engagingly poignant and always side-splittingly funny true account of Mr. Sedaris’ time spent working as a Christmas elf at Macy’s Department Store. The essay on which the play is based propelled Sedaris into the national spotlight when it was first published, and is now well on its way to becoming a modern holiday classic. After applying for the position as a gag job, our slacker-hero is suddenly thrown into a world of tinsel, fake snow, Santas who are more naughty than nice, and all the cringe-worthy trappings of the Macy’s Christmas display. Although our reluctant protagonist (aka, Crumpet the Elf) guides us through this yuletide nightmare with a wryly satiric attitude, even he may eventually find himself filled with holiday cheer, thanks to the kind influence of the final Santa to join the Macy’s team.

A true tale of redemption and good will, “The SantaLand Diaries” is a hilarious depiction of what the modern holidays are all about. Contact the box office at 731-SHOW or visit www.pagosacenter.org for tickets and availability.

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