The Santaland Diaries Review – A Holiday Classic for Adults

Steven Strafford (Crumpet the Elf) in The Santaland Diaries, directed by Steve Scott at Goodman Theatre (November 29 – December 29, 2019). Photo: Cody Nieset
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The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris, adapted by Joe Mantello returns to the Goodman Theatre in Chicago this 2019 holiday season from November 29 – December 29 in the Owen Theatre, directed by longtime Goodman Artistic Associate Steve Scott. The Santaland Diaries has been performed across the nation over the past two decades.

David Sedaris debuted The Santaland Diaries as an essay on National Public Radio (NPR) in 1992. Following its success, it was published in his essay collections Barrel Fever and Holidays on Ice. It was adapted by Mantello into a one-act, one-man stage production, which premiered at Atlantic Theater Company (1996). 

David Sedaris. Photo: Ingrid Christie

“Christmas isn’t Christmas without the brilliant cynicism of The Santaland Diaries and I’m really looking forward to bringing this wonderfully snarky story back to the Owen stage,” said Director Steve Scott. “And I’m doubly thrilled to be collaborating with Steven, an artist who I’ve long admired, and whose distinctive comic persona is a perfect fit for the wit of David Sedaris.” 

Steve Scott. Photo: Brian Kuhlmann

The 2019 production features Steven Strafford in a solo performance as a struggling actor who out of need for cash, takes a job as “Crumpet,” an elf at Macy’s Santaland. Telling us the story of how he ended up setting up the interview as a joke between him and his roommate, Crumpet leads us through the interview process, the training and to the moment he puts on the elf costume. 

From that moment on, it is a countdown not only to survive Santaland until Christmas Eve, December 24, but everything else in between. The co-workers, some whose enthusiasm in playing an elf is something he cannot fathom,  the managers, the year round workers who look down at the elves, who according to Crumpet “don’t know we get paid more than them”, and of course, the Santaland visitors consisting of parents who want the perfect photo, crying children, celebrities, and long lines.

Cody Nieset

Humorous and entertaining, it resonates for anyone who is or has worked retail at a Santaland, or just getting through the holidays with family. While I think it could use an update to match the time, as there are references to camcorders, and Radioshack made, it is a holiday classic. Enjoyable and a good laugh. 

 The Santaland Diaries is performed until December 29, 2019. Tickets are available ($25-67; subject to change) by telephone 312.443.3800 or online at Goodman Theatre. For “mature elves” only. Running time is approximately 100 minutes. 


AMERICA’S “BEST REGIONAL THEATRE” (Time magazine), Goodman Theatre is a premier not-for-profit organization distinguished by the excellence and scope of its artistic programming and civic engagement. Led by Artistic Director Robert Falls and Executive Director Roche Schulfer, the theater’s artistic priorities include new play development (more than 150 world or American premieres), large scale musical theater works and reimagined classics (celebrated revivals include Falls’ productions of Death of a Salesman and The Iceman Cometh). Goodman Theatre artists and productions have earned two Pulitzer Prizes, 22 Tony Awards, over 160 Jeff Awards and many more accolades. In addition, the Goodman is the first theater in the world to produce all 10 plays in August Wilson’s “American Century Cycle;” and its annual holiday tradition A Christmas Carol, which celebrates 42 years this season, has created a new generation of theatergoers. The Goodman also frequently serves as a production partner with local off-Loop theaters and national and international companies by providing financial support or physical space for a variety of artistic endeavors.

Committed to three core values of Quality, Diversity and Community, the Goodman proactively makes inclusion the fabric of the institution and develops education and community engagement programs that support arts as education. This practice uses the process of artistic creation to inspire and empower youth, lifelong learners and audiences to find and/or enhance their voices, stories and abilities. The Goodman’s Alice Rapoport Center for Education and Engagement is the home of such programming, most offered free of charge, and has vastly expanded the theater’s ability to touch the lives of Chicagoland citizens (with 85% of youth participants coming from underserved communities) since its 2016 opening.

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