Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 7, 2011

The Santaland Diaries

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through December 30, 2011
by Shera Cohen

Ryan Winkles is just so cute. He looks like a flirtatious cherub. Even Winkles’ name is cute. It is no surprise that he is cast as Crumpet the Elf in “The Santaland Diaries.” Yet, don’t look for your usual holiday sweetness and charm (both of which are quite evident in Winkles’ talent) in this one-act play with a season appropriate title. Instead, expect comedy, satire, risqué dialogue, and some pointed jabs at reality.

Playwright David Sedaris penned “Diaries” based on his own experiences as an elf at Macy’s in NYC. Wrinkles portrays a wannabe actor whose dream is to be cast on “One Life to Live.” He chronologically relates the detailed processes of how one becomes an elf. In the first seconds of the play, Director Tony Simotes immediately opens the fourth wall, exposing Winkles to his audience. He plays with us, jumps up the aisles, and asks questions. He has us at “hello.” Simotes and Winkles have been a creative team for several years. They are so in sync that their jobs seem incredibly easy.

The script is clever, the anecdotes are gems, and the story has a point from start to finish. Amid the fun and oftentimes side-splitting humor, are surprisingly serious moments. These ebb and flow smoothly and return to the humor. Is the real Santa white or black? How do parents behave and respect their kids in public? These are subjects to think about, but later.

Although Winkles seemingly portrays one character, he becomes many – chief elf instructor, a smart aleck Santa, a whinny child, and many more. How does he do this while dressed, for most of the play, in a bright multi-colored elf uniform? The answer? Perhaps better than any actor in the Pioneer Valley, Winkles uses his face, particularly his smile and his eyes. A curl of the lip, a darting glance “say” far more than pages of script.

If audiences have as much fun watching “Santaland Diaries” as opening night’s crowd, and as much fun as Ryan Winkles aka Crumpit the Elf exudes, then it’s a new and great way to spend the holidays.