Nice or Naughty

'Carol' and 'Santaland': community spirit meets subversion

At first glance, one wouldn’t think Dickens’ heartwarming fable A Christmas Carol would make a fitting companion to David Sedaris’ gleefully mean-spirited Santaland Diaries.

Actor David Yen feels otherwise.

“I think one is pretty much the mirror image of the other,” says Yen. “They’re different styles of telling a similar story, but each revolves around a character undergoing a major change, a transformation that turns them into a different person.”

Beginning next week, Yen launches an appealing double-whammy of a holiday event, alternating performances of Santaland (this will be Yen’s fifth straight year appearing in the popular one-man show) and something he calls Do It Yourself Dickens, wherein theatergoers are invited to read from an adapted script of Carol, everyone sitting in a circle as Yen portrays Scrooge, ricocheting back and forth as the entire group brings the words of Dickens to life.

“I’ve done this before with A Christmas Carol,” says Yen. “It’s always fun to watch people walk in, saying, ‘Oh, I’m just here to watch!’ Then they agree to read some small part, and by the end, they are totally into it.”

Yen notes that there are roles suitable for children, whom he encourages to join in, simply requiring them to be reasonably strong readers. As adapted by Yen, there are as many as 40 possible roles in Carol, including a number of narrators. Warm holiday drinks are served throughout the show to give it an extra holiday feel.

“We’re not expecting an Emmy or Oscar performance out of anyone,” laughs Yen. “We’re just doing this for fun. Nonparticipating people are welcome to join the circle as well. Ultimately, the goal is for everyone to leave the theater with a feeling of togetherness and community spirit, a feeling of coming together to create something special with friends and strangers. After all, that’s what everyone hopes to feel at this time of year, right?”

Santaland Diaries is quite the opposite. Children are decidedly not recommended, as the story of an unemployed actor forced to play an elf at Macy’s department store is hilariously prickly and decidedly non-Dickensian.

“There is a brief moment where everything seems to end the way it should in a Christmas story,” Yen says. “And then it backpedals to something sort of deliciously nasty—as if Sedaris went, ‘OK, can’t go too far into the nice stuff. Let’s leave ’em with a real zinger.'”

Sonoma County Library