‘The Santaland Diaries’ opening at the Goodman Theatre brings festive, but naughty smiles

By Mat Cohen

It’s rare for one of Santa’s little helpers to be a realist who gets satisfaction from asking, “Have you ever imagined Santa as an anagram of Satan?”

But then again, a Christmas grouch doesn’t usually make you smile.

Steven Strafford does while performing The Santaland Diaries in his return to the Goodman Theatre. 

Strafford plays a struggling actor in New York in need of some quick cash. So he becomes an elf at Macy’s Santaland. After a quick job orientation and a costume change, Strafford takes the audience on a comedic sleigh ride exploring the realistic side of a 33-year-old wearing striped tights while dealing with the holiday crowd.

The monologue contains a high level of detail from writer David Sedaris. He depicts specific situations of the holiday rush, from a perspective not familiar to many, observed by an angry elf, helping parents force kids onto Santa’s lap while also trying to make them smile. The specificities benefit the sometimes-crude humor and draw the audience into every word from Strafford.

He walks around the glitter-filled, snow-covered stage, playing different parts, including a crying kid, a flirtatious Santa and an elf singing a Billy Holiday-style Christmas carol. He mans different stations of Macy’s Santaland, bringing out funny observations, such as dealing with a fist fight and ignoring cash bribes in hopes of cutting the line and going straight to Santa’s house.

The 80-minute show displays Strafford’s ability as a storyteller and as a solo entertainer, which made the festive, but naughty, performance feel like half the time had passed.

The Santaland Diaries, written by Sedaris and adapted by Joe Mantello, is directed by Steve Scott.

For information about the Goodman Theatre and The Santaland Diaries, running through Dec. 29 in the Goodman’s Owen Theatre, visit https://www.goodmantheatre.org/santaland

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