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Santa's helper shares lesson

The Vortex Theatre is putting its own twist on Christmas this year with Joe Mantello's theater adaptation of "The Santaland Diaries."

"The Santaland Diaries," was written by humorist David Sedaris and was initially a segment of his book Barrel Fever. The piece takes a comical look into the difficult world of seasonal mall jobs and the stage adaptation sticks with Sedaris' tone and plot.

A 20-something slacker has great hopes of becoming an actor in New York, but ends up working as an elf in Macy's Santa Land. He consoles himself with the knowledge that previous elves had appeared on shows such as "Days of Our Lives." David takes the job and has quite a bad attitude about working with parents and children. This attitude changes when a new Santa comes to work in Santa Land. This new Santa actually cares about the people who come to see him and this causes David to reflect on his outlook.

The adaptation is a one-man show and uses monologues to fully portray the agonies of life as an exit elf, a greeter elf and a register elf, among others. UNM alumnus Ross Kelly plays David.

Since the show only has one character, Kelly and first-time Albuquerque director Elias Lee Francis spent a lot of time fine-tuning the play. Francis said he loved working one-on-one with Kelly because their interaction was very focused and there was a high level of specificity. Still, the show has required a lot of work.

"There are many transitions," Francis said. "It looks great on paper but the task of putting it into a play is a very interesting and one had to be very creative."

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And there was plenty of room for creativity. The only parameter Francis and Kelly had to work within was the script's single stage direction: "puts on costume." Ross and Kelly had to come up with the rest. The two thought about clever ways of bringing Sedaris' descriptions to life. Every gesture the audience will see the character make was conceived by Francis with input from Kelly.

The play features scenes of heightened comedy that likely everyone will relate to, such as a loud obnoxious child screaming in a department store. The play also draws on poignant moments in which Sedaris takes a hard look at the world.

This multi-faceted perspective required Kelly to learn about 45 pages of monologue. Kelly said it was difficult to learn so many lines but it was worth it considering how specific and focused the work was.

While the tale offers a lot to laugh at, it has an important message of love amid all the angst and frustration, Kelly said. The play does what Sedaris seems to have set out to do - offer plenty of humor and realism while giving a perspective on the human condition.

The What, When and Where

What: 'The Santaland Diaries'

When: Fridays and Saturdays 8 p.m.,

Sundays 6 p.m. through Dec. 28

Price: $10 Adults, $8 Students and


Where: Vortex Theatre

2004 1/2 Central Ave.

Tickets and info: 247-8600

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