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ART BEAT: 'Santaland Diaries' allow Lionheart actors a chance to improvise

Award-winning writer David Sedaris is known for his extremely wry and witty memoirs, and nowhere is he funnier than in "Santaland Diaries." This long essay relates the travails of Crumpet, Sedaris' "elf alter ego" as he worked a holiday stint at Macy's. The essay has been retooled into a theatre piece as well as a very popular NPR feature.

Lionheart Theatre in Norcross has taken on Crumpet's story for Gwinnett audiences to enjoy. Performances will be Dec. 2, 3, 9 and 10 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 4 and 11 at 2 p.m. in the theater located at the Norcross Cultural Arts and Community Center, 10 College St. (at the corner with Britt Avenue) in Norcross. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors. Groups of 10 or more are $10 each.

Bringing Crumpet to life for Lionheart will be Bob Smith, who performed the show in Cartersville last year. "Tanya Caldwell asked if we could bring it to Lionheart, and I told her that as long as we could keep the director, Carolyn Sheppard Choe, I was in." Smith will be joined by a cast which includes Peg Thon, Karen Ruetz, Mike Davis, Jason Caldwell and Conner Choe as "other elves, Santas, and victims."

The play pokes fun at a lot of the traditional holiday sacred cows, and there are adult references that will, according to Smith, "amuse and offend all."

Changes have been made to accommodate cultural, technological, and other advances, with changes to the original made this year by Smith with input from the cast and crew.

"This play is a joy to do for many reasons," Smith said. "Sedaris' work is magnificent, but it's also the show's improvisational nature that makes it fun. All performances are primarily scripted, of course, but what happens night in and night out depends on the audience, the surroundings, and how much coffee I have had."

Some of the improved items get put into the script while others are a "one night only" phenomenon. "The interaction between the onstage characters is equally unpredictable, as we're apt to change elements on any given evening to fit our whim," he said.

"The improv items are generally driven by audience reaction," Smith said. "Last year, a couple of lovely older ladies cheered when I mentioned Lady Gaga. We discussed at some length the low likelihood of them even knowing who Gaga is, much less being fans. Had they not been on walkers, I'd have invited them up to dance with me during the Gaga song that followed."

Although Smith describes his Crumpet as being "kinder and gentler" than Harold Leaver's interpretation at Atlanta's Horizon Theatre, "rest assured, my Crumpet is very caustic, and there will be no punches pulled," he said. "I don't want to embarrass anyone in the audience. I just want to bring them into the joke. Our targets are not typically in the room. We take on public figures and events."

Tickets for "Santaland Diaries" are available through the Lionheart Theatre web site at www.lionhearttheatre.org or call 678-938-8518.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. Email her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.