David Foster is what theater people call a quadruple threat. He's a first-rate singer, expressive dancer, multifaceted actor, and he can cut you a new one with a single glance. Three of these talents will be put to good use when he revives the role of Crumpet the cranky department store elf in David Sedaris' popular holiday anti-classic, The Santaland Diaries. Hint: He does a mean Billie Holiday, but there are no production numbers.
Live performances of The Santaland Diaries have become nearly as ubiquitous as A Christmas Carol. It's been a semi-regular part of Playhouse on the Square's holiday programming for years, and, over time, the once-outrageous humor became as stale as last year's Christmas cookies. Then in 2009 Playhouse moved the show off the stage and into its Memphis Room cabaret space in the Circuit Playhouse, and Foster took over the meaty role, which had been played by a long string of Memphis heavyweights, including Brian Mott and Dave Landis. The makeover was nothing short of a Christmas miracle for people who hate stories about Christmas miracles.
As Sedaris illustrates so vividly in The Santaland Diaries, out-of-work artists have been known to take self-esteem-crushing gigs in order to make ends meet. Foster is no exception, and his Crumpet is informed by his own experiences playing Goldy the Reindeer at Goldsmith's version of Santaland, a memory he describes as "horrible."
Foster doesn't try to ape Sedaris' nerdy deadpan delivery, as other Crumpets have before him. He's his own elf and has been known to sling a little improv as he works the room.
In spite of its edge, The Santaland Diaries gets at the sentimental side of Christmas as well as any Victorian relic, although it's neither candy-coated nor kid-safe. Cocktails are served and encouraged.
"The Santaland Diaries" at Circuit Playhouse, November 30th-December 23rd. playhouseonthesquare.org