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Jon Tindle begins The SantaLand Diaries at Source Theater looking as if he’s just stepped out of a Raymond Chandler mystery. Smoke curls lazily from a cigarette that’s barely visible inside the sleeve of his raincoat. His mouth curls, too, in a thin-lipped line that would become a sneer if it could just summon the energy.
He’s standing before a Christmas tree, with cheery Muzak providing a counterpoint to his ostentatiously sour mood. Not that he’s a Scrooge exactly, just an ordinary guy who has visited all seven rings of a hell that was specially designed for the holidays and lived to tell about it.
“I was an elf at Macy’s SantaLand,” he’ll later confess, amid protests that he’s really an actor and that he came to Manhattan with hopes as high as the ledges from which he’d now happily leap. His stories about acting, however, aren’t nearly as vivid as the ones about the Santa who flirted with him or the mothers who had their kids pee in the artificial snow rather than lose their places in line.
That these and dozens of other mostly uproarious stories penned by National Public Radio commentator David Sedaris after a stint at the Manhattan Macy’s several Yules back (full disclosure: I am a film critic for NPR) are true only adds to the sense of desperation Tindle conjures once he’s shed the raincoat for a green satin elf blouse, chartreuse tights, and velveteen slippers with curled toes and elastic anklebands. Elfin he’s not, and the visual transition from Chandleresque suavity is a certifiable hoot.
Tindle and director Rick Fiori expend more effort than they probably should on ratcheting up the desperation level in SantaLand, something they fortunately don’t do in the even more caustic curtain-raiser, Season’s Greetings. That one finds an auburn-wigged Tindle playing a racist, scattered, possibly homicidal suburban matron who probably shouldn’t be sending out her Christmas newsletter this year. In both sketches, laughs take precedence over the poignance the author tends to go for in his radio pieces. But since the laughs come pretty much nonstop, only a grinch would complain.CP