Kansas City Repertory Theatre is staging “The Santaland Diaries” for the second consecutive year, but anyone who saw the 2013 version will be in for a few surprises.
Eric Rosen, the Rep’s artistic director, is staging the show for the first time, and brings his customary innovative touches and creative flourishes to the material. The result is a smart, funny version of the one-actor play, in which the talented Brian Sills reprises his role as an “elf” in Santaland at Macy’s during the holiday shopping season.
The show is what it is — a one-act comic piece that consists of almost nothing but empty calories. It delivers lots of acerbic asides, plenty of irony and numerous chuckles thanks to the incongruous humor of an embittered elf holding back the curtain for us to see the grimy reality of creating “holiday magic.”
Sills gives us a detailed performance that is superior in most respects to his first outing in the show last year. And Rosen has brought back musician/singer Shanna Jones, who in the 2013 version provided wacky pre-show vaudevillian entertainment as one half of a duo called the Shenanigans.
This time, however, Rosen integrates Jones’ idiosyncratic renditions of familiar holiday tunes into the body of the piece, using her in mini-intervals that break up the action. Jones has a big voice and accompanies herself on ukulele and guitar (and, at one point, kazoo) as she bites into “Let it Snow,” “Blue Christmas” and several other familiar holiday songs.
At center stage is an enormous wrapped Christmas present with food-of-the-gods-sized ribbons and bows. We first see Sills in civilian dress as he — using David Sedaris’ language as adapted by playwright Joe Mantello — explains how he came to answer an ad in the paper and become an “elf” in Santaland, an area of the store designed for little kids to line up and tell Santa what they want for Christmas.
He describes having to attend “elf class” and explains that the elves have rotating responsibilities. Some are “pointer elves” who steer parents and kids to Santaland and some are the gate-keepers who usher a parade of youngsters one by one to meet Santa. Eventually Sills changes into his elf costume — a ridiculous green uniform with red-striped leggings and oversized shoes that look like big bedroom slippers with bells on their toes.
Eventually three sides of the big Christmas present slowly descend to reveal Santaland, a snowy vision of holiday motifs with little chalets built into an alpine mountainside. It’s basically the same version we saw last year. Scenic designer Clint Ramos delivers handsome work. No costume designer is credited in the program, but it goes without question that Sills’ costume generates many of the laughs in this show.
If you’ve never seen this show before, you probably have a few belly laughs in your future. If this is not your first time, then much of the humor will probably seem familiar and mild. Either way, Rosen and Sills chalk up some nice work.
To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to email@example.com.
“The Santaland Diaries” runs through Dec. 24 at Copaken Stage, 13th and Walnut. Call 816-235-2700 or go to www.kcrep.org.