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The Santaland Diaries

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By David Sedaris
The Lemming Armada
December 16, 2005

The only problem with the Lemming Armada, one of the St. Louis area’s newest theater companies (and easily the best-named), is that the theater is all the way over in Belleville, which, if you follow Mapquest directions from St. Louis, is somewhere on the other side of East St. Louis. If you’re driving over with your mom, as I did, you just might want to go around East St. Louis, through Fairview Heights, even if it takes longer, on the off chance that you might get lost in East St. Louis, as I did.

That said, everything else about the Lemming Armada production of David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries was wonderful. From the immense relief I felt at having finally landed my mother safely in a theater, to the warm welcome from the woman in the box office, who had no record of my MetroTix ticket purchase but let us in anyhow, I felt at right at home with the Lemming Armada.

The theater itself is charming in a beatnik kind of way. From the street level, you go down a flight of stairs into a basement. A little bar straight ahead serves mixed drinks, several kinds of beer, and Jones sodas. The room is undersized with exposed brick and stone walls painted to look wet, a few high-top tables in back covered in turquoise pieces of pottery, and several rows of seats up front. The small stage was walled off in the back by curtains. There wasn’t a program available, so, as a writer and a reader, I was a little disappointed, as I always appreciate poring over one before the show. But the comfortable atmosphere soon made up for the omission.

A long-time fan of David Sedaris, I really wanted to enjoy the production, but I was also prepared to be disappointed. Having seen Sedaris read his own work, I wondered if anyone else could do it justice. Thankfully, my worries turned out to be unfounded. Charlie James, the sole actor in the production, brought more to the work than a straight reading possibly could.

James, who has a day job as an art teacher, was armed with only a minimal set of wrapped Christmas presents and a tree, a few props, and one costume change (two, if you count getting dressed). Yet he managed to bring the stage to life as if it were populated by a full cast of characters.

James portrayed a man past his teenage years, someone in the middle ages—too old to be an elf and too young to be Santa—in a very believable manner. Drinking from a can of Stag as he ironed his pants prior to applying for the job, donning the striped tights and green velvet of his “uniform,” and relaying the facts of the job, James was completely convincing. Through body language, he managed to portray conversations with the other characters mentioned in the story as if the other characters were there, and through pacing, he pulled the jokes off one after another, just as easily the flow in Sedaris’ essay.

While the The Santaland Diaries production is a thing of the past, I look forward to seeing other shows at the Lemming Armada, and hope that many St. Louisans will take the time to get to Belleville—whichever way they choose to go—to support this wonderful new theater.

For more information on the Lemming Armada, visit www.lemmingarmada.com.

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