by Julie-Kate Cooper*
December 11, 2010. Raleigh, NC: Automatic Vaudeville and Theatre in the Park have combined to present The Santaland Diaries for a short run in Raleigh. The one-man show tells the hilarious story of a young man who finds himself working as an elf in Macy’s department store when other jobs are tough to come by. The play lends itself to standup comedy and has audience members rolling with laughter.
Jesse R. Gephart has played this role numerous times. His precision and fullness with the character are spot on. The play moves mostly in sequence, and for an hour long show, you might think it could grow tiresome. Not the case at all. Gephart’s constant appeal to the audience was entertaining and even candid. The director, Maggie Rasnick, was thoughtful with her staging in the thrust space and the minimalist design allowed the piece to move fluidly. The writing, by David Sedaris (who grew up in Raleigh and attended Sanderson H.S.) , adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello, is funny on its own, but Gephart brings wonderful comedic timing and does the work justice. The production’s weight rides heavily on the ability of Gephart’s character to enthuse the audience. The character speaks directly to the audience so it allows Gephart liberties on where he can ham it up. His role is a great one for any confident actor who can steer a show. Gephart takes the show by the reins and commands attention. A one-man show is very hard to keep up, but Gephart’s energy never wavered. The experience felt like a hybrid between a play and standup comedy.
Some of the jokes might have you blushing or looking for permission to laugh, for which no excuses are made. The work is direct, honest, and candid. Though not intended for young audiences, the show appeals to adults of any age. The mature language, honest frustrations, and the unfortunate circumstance of only being hirable as an elf ignite to tell the hilarious and unlikely story.
*The author is a member of CVNC's internship program at Meredith College.