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'Santaland Diaries' on stage

TheatreWorks brings darkly funny dose of holiday cheer

The holidays can be a stressful time -- just ask anyone working in retail. But laughter, as they say, can be the best medicine. TheatreWorks Silicon Valley always offers up a little something special around the holiday season but this year the renowned company has not one but two treats in store for audiences. In addition to its upcoming production of the family-friendly spectacle "Around the World in 80 Days," TheatreWorks is bringing a healthy dose of mature, somewhat subversive comedy to Foothill College with its production of "The Santaland Diaries."

Based on humorist and writer David Sedaris' essay of the same name, "The Santaland Diaries" recounts Sedaris' hilariously miserable seasons spent working as Crumpet the Elf at Macy's department store during the height of holiday madness. The essay, and Sedaris' reading of it on National Public Radio, helped to boost the author into the mainstream spotlight. Now, in a staged version, local actor Max Tachis is launching his official TheatreWorks debut as Sedaris/Crumpet.

If you're a local theater regular, you've probably seen Tachis around, as he's starred in many productions (including, quite recently, "The Crucible" with the Los Altos Stage Company).

"For most actors in the Bay Area, TheatreWorks is on your radar of places you want to work, desperately," Tachis said. He's worked with director Jeffrey Lo before (both are also playwrights) and knew the two had a great rapport. And while retail elf may not be a dream job, playing one just might be. "It's a show that I enjoy, a company I've always wanted to work with and a director I trust," Tachis said.

"The Santaland Diaries" chronicles the many ridiculous moments Crumpet goes through while serving the throngs of Macy's customers vying for their chance to take a picture with Santa Claus -- fist fights, crying children, dubious moral choices, humiliating costumes and all ("I wear green velvet knickers, a forest green velvet smock and a perky little hat decorated with spangles. This is my work uniform," Crumpet begins). Since this production is a one-man show, there's a lot of responsibility on Tachis and Lo's shoulders to bring Sedaris' beloved words to life on stage.

"You need to have somebody who's able to maintain the audience's interest because it's just him on stage the whole time, and it doesn't lend itself to a bunch of bells and whistles in terms of design," Lo said. "When we went out to cast the show we cast a pretty wide net; folks around the country sent in videos; we even considered some women who were really funny. We wanted to see what brand of humor that would work for the role," he explained. Tachis, with his quick wit and everyman charm, won out.

"This is the first time I've done anything like this. It is equal parts really, really exciting and completely daunting. I'm as excited as I am nervous," Tachis said. "The sheer weight of the workload is something totally new to me. The opportunity to expand more is not something I would ever turn down."

And while Tachis and Lo haven't personally worked as Santa's elves, they're still able to draw upon their own adventures in the workforce when presenting the show.

"If you worked in the service industry ever, then a lot of this rings true." Tachis said. "I spent 10 years in the coffee industry; human interaction kind of remains unchanged when it comes to consumers."

Lo recounted with a laugh his attempt at getting a job at Sears after college graduation. The interview was going well, he said, until the prospective manager asked him why he wanted to work there.

"I wasn't quick enough to come up with anything. I muttered out loud, 'I don't.' As soon as I said it I realized I shouldn't have, but I didn't get the job, so I guess I avoided what would have been my Santaland experience," he said. Happily for him, a few months later he was hired by TheatreWorks and the rest is history. Lo has worked with TheatreWorks for around six years, including as an assistant director for many productions, but "Santaland Diaries" is his first time directing a show for the company's main season.

"Getting the opportunity to direct is something that's been a goal of mine for some time. When we made the decision to add a second holiday show with a little bit more of an edge to it -- a little darker, a little less family-friendly, I thought that this was going to be a good fit for me," Lo said.

A few days into rehearsals at the time of his interview with the Weekly, Tachis was having a blast. "I figure if people have half as much fun as we're having, it'll be a success," he said.

What: "The Santaland Diaries"

Where: Lohman Theatre, Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills.

When: Dec. 5-23.

Cost: $2 for students; $39-$45 general.

Info: Go to TheatreWorks.

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