By Bob Keyes firstname.lastname@example.org
You'd better be careful if you see Dustin Tucker on the street or working out at the club.
He may be scouting you.
"I meet people that are in the show all the time," said Tucker, who reprises the role of the naughty elf in David Sedaris' true-life comedy "The Santaland Diaries."
"I met this guy in September who reminded me of Ginger Snap (a character in the show). I shook his hand and just laughed. As life happens, as you meet people, you gain insight into these characters."
The show previews Friday in the Studio Theater at Portland Stage Company. Through Dec. 16, Tucker will perform the one-man comedy 30 times.
With his snarky performance, Tucker has become a holiday sensation for those who like their Christmas decked out with cynicism.
This will be the fifth year Tucker has played the role of the wicked elf Crumpet. The show did well in the first year, selling out by word of mouth after the run began. In years two and three, the entire run sold out before opening night. Last year, the run sold out after the first week.
Tucker won't reveal his future plans for "The Santaland Diaries," but it's entirely possible this will be the last year for him in this role. In show business, it's always better to go out while demand is high rather than ride a downward wave.
And to be sure, Tucker enjoys this ride.
"This is just a very fun show, a very funny show and a great show to do," he said.
A modern-day satirist, Sedaris wrote "The Santaland Diaries" based on his experience working as an elf during the holidays at a major department store. Sedaris employs a cruel wit, skewering the masses of sugar-fueled shoppers with bitter jabs.
It almost goes without saying that this show is for mature audiences.
Tucker, who lives in Portland, is meant for the role. He's small, wiry and wildly energetic. He seems perfectly comfortable cavorting around in a silly elf costume with candy cane leg stockings.
The show's humor revolves around him telling stories during his break from herding pushy parents and their snotty kids through Santaland. Crumpet uses his break to steal nips from a bottle of gin. Tucker is so fresh with his performance, one might assume it's real gin he's drinking. But as a recovering alcoholic, the actor sticks to water.
This year, he's toying with replacing the Camel Lights in the play with a marijuana joint. Again, Tucker is an ex-cigarette smoker, and he likes the idea of a pot-smoking elf. Whether that alteration makes it into the performance will depend on rehearsals.
Tucker is a fan of Sedaris' writing. He has read many of his books, and heard him read and talk. He spends a lot of time with Sedaris' audio books.
In this show, Tucker isn't playing an imagined character, but Sedaris himself. The better Tucker knows Sedaris, his voice and mannerisms, the better his portrayal will be.
"I think there is something so funny about his voice. I listen to 'Santaland' every year. He is just off-handed. He doesn't try, he is just funny. It's very natural," he said.
Tucker spends about a month before the opening going over the script. He doesn't change much in the show year to year -- same words, same costumes, same set. But he does look for spots where he can hone his delivery or find ways to draw more laughs.
Dan Burson has directed Tucker in this show each year. After four years working together, it's a quick process for these two to get this show ready to go, he said.
"We've got it down to about a week of rehearsals. We don't need a whole lot of rev-up time," Burson said. "The rehearsal process is really about holding on to the things we really like. If there are things we didn't like, we will look for ways we can change those and make them better.
"It's always easy to re-imagine things. What's harder to do is to figure out how to do it in a way that fits with things that already work."
Burson enjoys collaborating with Tucker because he is an agile actor. Tucker excels at comedy, but is also highly regarded as a serious actor. He's open to taking direction and is fearless, Burson said.
"He is completely open to trying pretty much anything once, which is something I always love to see in an actor," he said. "That's really great for a director. You know that every possible stone will be overturned, and he will do it in a really professional way."
With its intimate seating, the studio theater is well-suited for this show, Burson said. Because the audience is so close, it's possible for Tucker to make direct connections with individuals. He looks them in the eye, gets right up on them. It's a personal performance.
"A show like this has conspiracy between the audience and the performer," Burson said.
By Michael J. Tobin
'Santaland Diaries' ho ho horrifyingly funny
In the words of Crumpet, one of Santa's little helpers, "It makes one mouth hurt to speak with such forced merriment". However, the merriment is anything but forced when actor Dustin Tucker takes the stage in, Santaland Diaries, now playing at Portland Stage Company Studio Theater.
For 75 minutes, larger-than-life actor Tucker captivates the audience with what should be called,"Misery on 34th Street", as he copes with thousands of Macy's shoppers (and their kiddies) with wicked wit written by David Sedaris. With his boyish charm, Tucker mischievously relishes the delicious details and shock effects of Sedaris' naughty true confessions, bringing three-dimensional life to this entertaining, amusing and surprisingly uplifting show. Tucker's animated facial expressions and spot-on physical gestures tell Crumpet's tale with just the right mix of cynicism and bitterness, yet manages to give us a warm glow at the show's end as he surrenders to the season's sentiment. Tucker is versatile, precise and gives a "must see" performance not to be missed.
Director Daniel Burson gave Tucker a solid foundation to build upon, creating perfect pictures to fit each scene in Crumpet's season of hell at Macy's. Burson's transitions were smooth and well defined. Together, Burson and Tucker created perfect timing for the 31 pages of memorized madness, never letting the audience's attention stray any further than the hand that Tucker so masterfully held us in.
Scenic designer, Anita Stewart, gave us a messy, miserable backroom of debris, with its various Macy's posters and scattered paper snowflakes on the floor. Stewart always delivers with detail in her set designs, cleverly shown in Dairies with the uneven table leg that was balanced by the Elfin Guide. Although show appropriate, costume designer Susan Thomas needed to give Crumpet's attire a seasonal facelift, as it looked just a bit too faded and limp. Original lighting design by Matthew Cost and adapted by Shannon Zura was fine, given the limitations of the studio lighting system. Sound choices by Cost worked well, although I found the background music and noise to be more distracting than an enhancement when Tucker was speaking. Stage manager Shane Van Vliet continues to prove why the stage manager is the glue that holds show together. Another excellent job by Van Vliet.
A special mention to Amber Callahan, who designed the colorful and fun lobby decorations. It truly was a wonderful way to start your journey with Crumpet, making you smile and feel like a kid.
Santaland Diaries has become a PSC tradition and, like seasons past, will most likely sell-out, so get your seats early. Tucker's performance is the perfect holiday gift.
Santaland Diaries plays through December 18th. For show schedule, information and to make reservations, go to portlandstage.org or call 774-0465. Portland Stage Company Studio Theater is located at 25A Forest Ave, Portland.
And you'll laugh when you see him in spite of yourself –
Dustin Tucker, that is, in David Sedaris' 'The Santaland Diaries.'
By Bob Keyes email@example.com
Dustin Tucker will be driving around in his car in June and start picking off lines from "The Santaland Diaries."
"They're just there," he says. "All the time. I don't know if that's good or bad."
We'll take it as a good.
Tucker is back for this year's run of "The Santaland Diaries," the saucy, adults-oriented David Sedaris comedy at Portland Stage Company's studio theater. The show opens Friday and runs through Dec. 19. Sedaris, a regular voice on public radio, wrote the show about his experiences as a costumed elf at Macy's. He offers a wickedly cynical, behind-the-scenes look at what it's really like. This is the third year Portland Stage has presented the one-man show, and Tucker has done every performance. The role has become his signature."I'll be walking down the street and people will say, 'You're the elf.' That makes me very happy. I love being the elf," says Tucker. "I've never had a show that has been this big of a hit. It's gratifying to know that people enjoy it."
The show runs in tandem with the Portland Stage's family-friendly "A Christmas Carol" on the mainstage.
Tucker likes this role because it's pure storytelling. He's alone on stage in a ridiculous outfit, and gets to vamp for 90 minutes. He tunes in to the particular vibe of each audience, and tailors each performance to the feedback he feels. Tucker goes through a new set of tights each year, and he and director Dan Burson talk about tweaks here and there. But the script is the same, and the blocking doesn't change much year to year. Doesn't have to, Tucker says. It's easy to get people to laugh, because Sedaris "is a truth-teller," he says. "He has a way of speaking the truth that we all feel in the back of our heads."The holidays are a very trying time. They're a wonderful time and a loving time, but they are also a lot of anxiety and stress. 'Santaland Diaries' is particularly important because people need to know that everyone is dealing with some anxieties and frustrations. That is why the show works so well. It gives people the chance to sit back and laugh and forget their cares for an hour."
For several years, Tucker appeared in the mainstage production of "A Christmas Carol." He's a member of the Affiliate Artists at Portland Stage.
Tucker has never met Sedaris, and says he would like to. But he definitely would not want Sedaris to see the show. Essentially, Tucker is playing Sedaris on stage, and he said he would feel uncomfortable if he knew Sedaris was in the audience. "He was in town two years ago doing something at Merrill around the same time," Tucker said. "I was in a panic: 'Oh god, I hope he does not come and see it.' No one can do it justice."
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:
The Santaland Diaries
Portland Stage Company has offered theater-goers a choice this December. If you’d like a traditional holiday experience, you can sit in PSC’s main theater and watch the latest iteration of A Christmas Carol. Or, should you be in no mood for such a re-roasted chestnut, there’s the sour figgy pudding being served in the company’s Studio Theater: The Santaland Diaries.
This one-man show tells the tale of how best-selling author/NPR poster boy David Sedaris once spent a Yuletide working at Macy’s in New York. “I am a 33-year-old man applying for a job as an elf,” says Sedaris, here embodied by Dustin Tucker as a rumpled, stubbled slacker wearing a ballcap backwards. He applies not out of affection for the season, but because, “I’m twenty dollars away from walking dogs.”
Theater buffs will recognize Tucker from last year’s PSC production of Fully Committed, another solo piece focused on a man dealing with impossible customer demands at holiday time. The pleasure of Fully Committed lay in watching a nice guy prevail while maintaining his sweetness under pressure. Santaland gives us the spectacle of a tart-tongued man in a childish costume taking verbal revenge against the seasonal idiocies around him. Tucker seems to get more enjoyment out of his latest assignment. The audience does, too.
Clad in striped pants, a green velvet vest and a pointy hat, Sedaris/Tucker navigates the insanity of his new job with deadpan aplomb. He must deal with racist parents who refuse to let their kids sit on the lap of a “chocolate” Santa. He’s obliged to maintain a “grinding enthusiasm” in the face of tired, snappish, unmerry crowds that number in the thousands. And when parents instruct their tots to unzip and whiz into the faux snow of Santaland, it’s an elf’s job to just keep on grinning.
Anyone who has ever worked in customer service will enjoy the lacerating wisecracks that make this show crackle. As Christmas gets closer and the crowds grow larger — and especially after Sedaris changes his elf-name from “Crumpet” to “Blisters” — our hero starts to lose his patience. He’s the only elf you’ve ever seen light up a smoke and spike his coffee with booze from a pocket flask.
When one of the Santas demands that he sing a Christmas carol, Sedaris croons “Away In A Manger” in a desolate Billie Holiday croak. A mother wants the elf to advise her bratty boy about the threat he’ll get coal in his stocking; Sedaris tells the kid that, these days, Santa “comes to your house and steals things.” And when yet another unreasonable customer tells Sedaris “I’m going to have you fired!” it takes all the strength he can muster not to retort, “I’m going to have you killed!”
The Santaland Diaries is essentially an 85-minute standup routine. Since it evolved from Sedaris’ actual journal, it’s light on plot and must rely on changes in tone to avoid joke-after-joke monotony. When he kicks back and compassionately reflects upon his fellow elves (“These people never imagined there was a green velvet costume in their future”), Sedaris reveals a sensitivity that keeps the audience on his side.
Tucker tears into this hammy part with gusto. He knows how to play his cherubic looks against the impish material. Stepping into his elf costume for the first time, he fills the silence by airily counseling the audience, “Don’t be jealous.” And when it comes time to turn a bit serious — “I’m not a good person,” Sedaris admits, after witnessing some true holiday kindness — Tucker can sell that just as well as he can deliver a wisecrack. He understands Sedaris is a cynic with a heart made of the purest, shiniest tinsel. Who but a disappointed idealist would complain so tartly about the less-than-heartwarming aspects of the Christmas ritual?
It’s fitting that PSC is presenting both Dickens’ sentimental, idealized version of the holiday myth and Sedaris’ deconstruction of the same. Unfortunately, Santaland is sold out, but as of this writing, there are still tickets available for A Christmas Carol. Bah humbug!
— Jason Wilkins
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
DAVID SEDARIS (Author) is a Grammy Award-nominated humorist, writer, comedian, bestselling author, and radio contributor. He first won national recognition fifteen years ago recounting his experiences as Crumpet the Macy's department store elf in The Santaland Diaries. Using his sharp, socially alert wit, Sedaris essays appear regularly in Esquire, GQ, and The New Yorker. He published his first collection of essays and short stories, Barrel Fever, in 1994. Each of his five subsequent essay collections, Naked (1997), Holidays on Ice (1997), Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000), Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004), and When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008), have become New York Times Best Sellers. As of 2008[update], his books have collectively sold 7 million copies. Much of Sedaris's humor is autobiographical and self-deprecating, and it often concerns his family life, his middle class upbringing in the suburbs of Raleigh, North Carolina, Greek heritage, various jobs, and education.
ABOUT THE CAST
DUSTIN TUCKER (David) is super jazzed to be back for his 5th year of The Santaland Diaries. This past year included: The Last Night of Ballyhoo at the Festival Stage of Winston-Salem; Tom and Hotspur in The Glass Menagerie and Henry IV: Part 1 (Theater at Monmouth); Life in the Theatre (Freeport) and the world premiere of James Glossman's Trouble is my Business at Portland Stage. Other Portland Stage credits include: Fully Committed, Bach at Leipzig, The 39 Steps and Peer Gynt. Broadway: The Rainmaker (Roundabout). Off-Broadway: Adam Rapp's premiere of Stone Cold Dead Serious, SoHo Rep, Culture Project and Primary Stage. Regional credits include: Williamstown Theatre Festival, Sierra Repertory Theatre, Interlochen Shakespeare Festival and 9 seasons with the Theater at Monmouth. Dustin is an Affiliate Artist with Portland Stage and a proud member of Actors' Equity. Much love and thanks to Anita, Dan and of course, Shane. Up next...Greater Tuna with his dear friend and fellow Texan, Tom Ford.
About the Production Team
DANIEL BURSON (Director) is glad to be working with Dustin one more time on Santaland's fifth year as part of the Studio Series. Now in his eighth season as Portland Stage's Literary & Education Manager, Dan returned to his home state in 2005 after stints with the Guthrie Theater, Berkshire Theatre Festival, and Huntington Theatre Company. In addition to four years of The Santaland Diaries, he has directed Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh and Mary's Wedding on the Portland Stage Mainstage, many staged readings for From Away and Little Festival of the Unexpected, and two independent studio collaborations: The Apollo of Bellac and Bunnies Part 1. Other local directing credits include productions with AIRE, Freeport Players, and the Opera House at Boothbay Harbor. As a dramaturg, Dan is the Northeast regional vice president of Literary Managers & Dramaturgs of the Americas, and dramaturged the world premieres of Longfellow: A Life in Words and Portland Stage's adaptations of Peer Gynt and The Snow Queen.
ANITA STEWART (Set Designer) has worked as a set and costume designer at leading theatres across the country, including: the Guthrie, Seattle Rep, Canadian Opera Company, Minnesota Opera, A.R.T., Steppenwolf, Hartford Stage, Dallas Theater Center, Long Wharf Theatre, New York Theater Workshop, Boise Contemporary Theater, New Jersey Shakespeare and Portland Stage Company. Anita's desire to play a meaningful role as an artist in a specific community brought her to Portland Stage Company in Maine as Artistic Director, a company for which she had previously done significant freelance design.
SUSAN THOMAS (Costume Designer) is now on her seventh season as the Costume Shop Manager at Portland Stage. Some of Susan's design credits at Portland Stage are A Christmas Carol and The Santaland Diaries which are running this season. Design work in previous seasons includes: The Snow Queen, 2Pianos4Hands, Mary's Wedding, Fully Committed, The Real McGonagall, and Longfellow: A Life in Words. Susan has worked in the costume shops of a variety of regional theatres including: Theatre Department at USM, Maine State Music Theater Costume Rentals, Geva Theater Center, Shakespeare & Company, The Theater at Monmouth, Fenix Theatre Company, The Opera House at Boothbay Harbor, and Port Opera. Enjoy the show!
MATTHEW COST (Lighting & Sound Designer) began designing as an undergrad at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. His work was most recently seen in In Direction for BoSoma Dance Company, at the BU Dance Theater in Boston. He also designs with Amy Marshall Dance Company, on tour in Queretaro, Mexico in 2009, and in Macau in 2008. Matt also plays bass in the Boston-based band The Swaggerin' Growlers.
JON WOJCIECHOWSKI (Lobby Decoration Designer)
SHANE VANVLIET (Stage Manager) is thrilled to be in her fifth season at Portland Stage. Some of her other credits include stage managing with; The Berkshire Theater Group, The Theater at Monmouth, national and international tours with Jean Ann Ryan Productions, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Two Beans Productions, Theaterworks and The Radio City Rockettes. She has worked on numerous productions in New York with Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, Turtleshell Productions, T. Shcreiber Studios and The New York Fringe Festival as well as The Washington D.C. Fringe Festival and in her spare time, she Production Manages at The Altman Building, in New York City.