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The Santaland Diaries

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The Santaland Diaries, Roadworks Productions, at the Chicago Cultural Center. The dominant monologue of the three in this one-man show is something like Springtime for Hitler, seemingly calculated to repulse most audiences. Sentimental theatergoers won't warm to the cheerless "The SantaLand Diaries," and the cynical folk who might like it probably aren't attending the holiday stuff it's disguised as. In fact Joe Mantello's adaptation of David Sedaris's tale of his tribulations as a Macy's elf is such a cold, willfully bitter sleigh ride, it's difficult to imagine anyone enjoying it.

Most of the fault lies with the material, which is extremely dependent on Sedaris's voice, whether on the page or in performance. The dilution of his whiny charisma lays bare his wit's dull bitchiness: performer Lance Baker has the thankless task of reciting Sedaris's clever but unamusing epigrams. Roadworks adds two other mean-spirited Sedaris bits to the mix, a pointless dissection of elementary-school Christmas pageants that wants to be a satire of theater criticism and a stale, unenlightening, tiresomely venomous portrait of a Hollywood producer.

There's a seasonal element to each piece, but the real running theme is an obsessive overfamiliarity with one's profession; not surprisingly, these diatribes are about as interesting as someone else's shoptalk. Baker, whose role requires several different kinds of unlikability, does excellent work, however: all three performances are superbly nuanced, fully inhabited, and potentially hilarious. This man's talents are being wasted.

--Brian Nemtusak

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