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THEATER

Santaland Diaries plays alongside Gift of the Magi

By JACK W. HILL SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published December 7, 2017 at 1:47 a.m.

Grant Fletcher Prewitt plays Crumpet the elf.

The Santaland Diaries

Opening weekend performances are 7 p.m. today (preview) and Friday (opening night), 6:30 and 9 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Subsequent shows, through Dec. 24, are 7 p.m. Thursday, 6:30 and 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 17 and 2 p.m. Dec. 24. Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s Black Box Theatre, 518 Main St., Little Rock (Preview performance at 7 p.m. today with beer night at 6 p.m. and director’s talk from 6:15 to 6:45 p.m.)

Tickets: $40, $30, $20 for students (advance sales); $15 (student rush — day of performance)

(501) 378-0405

therep.org/attend

Dueling Banjos it's not, nor is it even Dueling Dramas, just because the Arkansas Repertory Theatre has a pair of Christmas-themed productions going on at the same time a mere candy cane toss away from each other (at least on weekends).

David Sedaris' one-man show The Santaland Diaries opens officially Friday night, in the Rep's Black Box Theatre, a couple of storefronts northwest of the Rep's main theater on the southeast corner of Sixth and Main streets in downtown Little Rock.

"People can actually see both shows on the same weekend nights," the Rep's producing artistic director, John Miller-Stephany, explained recently. "The whole family could take in The Gift of the Magi, then the parents could send the kids home and go across the street to the 9 p.m. performance of The Santaland Diaries for some adult-themed entertainment, and even have a drink at one of the cafe tables that will be set up."

Santaland Diaries first was an essay written by humorist Sedaris, who brought his most recent one-man show to Little Rock's Robinson Center Performance Hall in April. Diaries was adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello. Ben McGovern directs the show's sole actor, Grant Fletcher Prewitt, who plays Crumpet, an elf.

Sedaris' essay was inspired by his experiences from a job playing one of Santa's elves at Macy's, the iconic New York City department store. Sedaris read excerpts from the essay on National Public Radio's Morning Edition in 1992. It has been rebroadcast many times since.

"A lot of people know the story from its origins on NPR," says McGovern. "It's a story best appreciated by adults, as his observations should be viewed by those who've been down that path and have some experience under their belts. It's true the story is not for young children, but there are a lot of children or kids mentioned, which leads, hopefully, to a greater appreciation of the season, seeing it in the eyes of children.

"It's one of the ways that he comes around to the idea that Christmas should be about kids, and it's not. Christmas should be for them."

The adult humor in the show is not of the sort that will send sensitive souls heading for the exits, McGovern and Prewitt agree.

"It never crosses the line," says Prewitt. "His sense of humor is biting and acerbic, definitely world-weary, but it's not cynical. He is politically incorrect, but not out of a sense of trying to shock you. He just can't help but say it the way he sees it. So I think there's an honesty there. I don't ever find the spirit of the play to be cruel or denigrating.

"The overall spirit of the show, oddly and surprisingly, really fits into the theme of holiday cheer. He gives us license to laugh at a time when we're supposed to be so solemn and high-minded, and in doing so, he takes the air out of the balloon. It's the over-commercialization and hectic nature of the holidays that makes us so stressed."

The minimalist set is meant to direct the focus on the storyteller, who will be in costume as an elf.

"It's velvet green, red and white candy cane leggings, big stocking cap and elf boots," Prewitt says. "I don't have to do much for people to start laughing. And it's one act, an hour and 10 minutes."

The show is not interactive, and no audience members will be brought onto the stage, the director assures.

Additional play-related scenarios are:

• Today at 6 p.m. the play's second preview performance of opening week will include Beer Night, provided by Lost Forty Brewing and the Arkansas Times. At 6:15 p.m. the preshow director's talks return, with insights into the production from Miller-Stephany and McGovern.

• Friday brings an opening night post-show reception with the cast, with complimentary toast provided by La Marca Prosecco and light hors d'oeuvres from RSVP Catering.

• At 7 p.m. Sunday , "Pay Your Age Night" will permit those ages 22 to 40 to pay the equivalent of their age for a ticket. There are 100 such tickets availableand only four tickets per household will be sold, with proof of age for each person in a party required when you pick up the tickets. There will be a complimentary wine tasting provided by Legacy Wine and Spirits.

• Dec. 13, immediately after the performance, "Epilogue: A Conversation With 'Crumpet'" will feature a discussion with Prewitt and other members of the creative team.

• At 7 p.m. Dec. 20, the performance will include a sign interpreter. Call the box office to book tickets.

• Dec. 23, after the evening performance, there will be an after-party, with drinks and appearances by cast members in Foster's at the Rep, the main theater's second floor lounge. (Tickets are not required for the party.)

Weekend on 12/07/2017

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