With a director and a cast of one, you’d think a production of "The Santaland Diaries" would be straightforward.
Instead, director Richard D. Thompson and actor Charles Fraser have a bit of a balancing act.
Written by David Sedaris, "Santaland Diaries" is a first-person account of working as a Christmas elf named Crumpet in "Santaland" at Macy's department store. Sedaris’ essay was adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello.
Fraser brings the character to life, keeps the author’s voice, but also adds his own take on the show.
"We don’t try to mimic or imitate (Sedaris)," Thompson said.
Since 1992, National Public Radio has been playing a recording of Sedaris reading from his essay as part of its holiday programming. For anyone familiar with "Santaland Diaries," it’s probably Sedaris’s voice they associate with the story.
So it’s Fraser’s job to keep that voice, add his own tone, and give life to all the other characters.
"We’re trying to capture the cadence, the rhythm of (Sedaris’) storytelling," Thompson said. "Even if you’re not hearing him, you’re hearing him."
Through Sedaris’ Crumpet, we get a glimpse of the inner circle of retail hell and frank, wry descriptions of those visiting and working there.
"He’s able to see many, many different people coming to the Santaland environment," Thompson said.
Fraser’s imitations of other characters and acted-out scenes give the show dynamic energy, he added.
"We want to heighten some of what David describes on the page, to say the least," Thompson said.
It’s an effort that Fraser has been pulling off well, he added. "Charles is a great guy, he’s a smart actor, and he’s a funny guy."
The other balancing act? Giving the sarcastic take on artificially crafting perfect Christmas memories its humorous bite without turning cynical.
"You miss the depth," Thompson said. "Oddly enough it all comes from this desire to make (Christmas season) good."
Behind the artifice, (even a little racism), and commercialism, there are people with good intentions.
"In the end, he realizes he gets to see some of the best of our human nature," Thompson said.
The high expectations, stress, and wonder of the season will be familiar to anyone who has spent a holiday season in the U.S.
"The nature of what he’s writing about strikes a chord in us all," Thompson said.
"The Santaland Diaries" runs December 13 through 21, with performances at 8 p.m. Dec. 13, 14, 19-21. Tickets and more information are available at rochestercivictheatre.org.