Monday, November 18, 2013

The SantaLand Diaries and the Formula of Christmas Comedy

Ladies and gentlemen, Bad Quarto Productions is back! This Christmas season, we're presenting David Sedaris' SantaLand Diaries, and I couldn't be more excited. We'll file this one under the performing modern plays using early modern rehearsal practices part of Bad Quarto's mission, but we're also going to be engaging in some early modern touring conditions with this one, which I'll be excited to tell you all about as it develops.

For now, I want to share my excitement when I discovered that SantaLand Diaries and our more traditional Christmas piece, the medieval Second Shepherds' Play actually have a lot in common. Both plays consist primarily of cynical appraisals of the world and the people in it, followed by, in the final moment, a realization of true meaning that elevates the characters and the audience from the dimension of cras slapstick.

We're all pretty familiar with the Second Shepherds' Play antics by now, and The SantaLand Diaries is likewise pretty well known through it's holiday air-play on NPR, but both present the actor with the challenge of embodying both the ridiculousness of living in a world filled with miserable people where nothing but bad things happen, and then turning to a realization that the Good we are given in the world is far greater than the slings and arrows that we suffer. Looking at some other popular pieces of Christmas entertainment, the pattern isn't hard to see: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (which I stage managed for the Catalyst Theatre Co. in Burlington back in 2007), The Charlie Brown Christmas special (the only one of the network holiday specials I still go out of my way to watch), and probably every other piece of Christmas entertainment, too.

The difference between the pieces that we've been watching for centuries, decades, or even just annually in recent memory, and the ones that we never look at again are the former category find ways to be more than just quick slapstick entertainment with a happy ending tacked on. Though are rehearsals are still in an early stage, Joseph Grabon, who will be performing in our SantaLand Diaries, told me that he found himself tearing up at the conclusion of Sedaris' play. It's not a guarantee of anything, of course, but I'll take it as a good omen that SantaLand Diaries will prove a worthy successor to The Second Shepherds' Play.

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