Jason In Santaland

an interview by Andrew Elias

JASON PARRISH IS reviving his role as David Sedaris, a cynical writer so desperate that he takes a job as an elf at Macy’s for the holiday shopping season. Parrish’s marvelous performance in this one-man show of Sedaris’ hilarious satire was so highly acclaimed and such a big hit last year that the Florida Repertory Theatre is presenting it again this season — once again in the intimate space of their new Studio Theater.

Originally an essay, Sedaris first read Santaland Diaries on NPR in 1992 and ganered considerable acclaim and celebrity. A few years later Broadway veteran Joe Mantello adapted it for the stage to great success and it has since become a staple in many regional and college theaters.

I interviewed Jason about the new production:

Andrew: You performed in The Santaland Diaries only last year. Why did you choose to revisit it again this season?

JASON: We debuted the piece in Florida Rep’s new Studio Theatre last season. It’s an intimate little performance space that seats about 85 people, so even with a three week run, we had to turn folks away last season who wanted to see it. It was wildly successful, people love it, and we hope it becomes a Fort Myers holiday tradition. So we’ll most likely see it again and again if the audiences want it.

What made you want to do The Santaland Diaries in the first place?

It’s one of those titles you continue to hear about, and a few seasons ago I saw it while I was home in Ohio for Christmas with my family. There is a theatre in Columbus that has been doing it since it was published in the 90s, and sells it out every year. A lot of theatres across the country do it. So, I came back and pitched it to Bob (Cacioppo, Producing Artistic Director), and said that we had to do this. People go crazy for it. And we did.

This is not your typical Christmas story. How would you describe the play to the unsuspecting theatergoer — and especially people who are unfamiliar with David Sedaris’ work?

It is a really funny, irreverent and sardonic look at the Holiday season. It is the ‘anti’ Christmas play. It’s not a saccharine or overly sweet Christmas story, and it is totally refreshing. At the same time as being absolutely adult and absolutely hilarious, it is poignant and a bit moving — but it takes you by surprise.
It’s a great play for dates. It is a great escape from holiday shopping and Christmas pandemonium. I recommend it to Anyone -— especially those who don’t generally like the theatre.

When did you first learn about Sedaris’ work —and The Santaland Diaries in particular?

I’ve know Sedaris’ work for some time. I read a few of his books a while back, but it must have been about 5 or so years ago that Santaland, the stage adaptation, came to my attention. And I am delighted to be a part of it.

What about Sedaris’ writing do you find so attractive?

I love his view of the world. He has such a unique way of looking at things. He sees the truth and comments on it in a way that is unlike any other satirist. He makes you laugh. He makes you think. And he makes you question most everything.

What are the challenges of performing a one-man show?

It is a very different experience being up there all alone. It is as frightening as it is exhilarating. You have to develop a rapport with the audience, and play scenes with them — they become your scene partner.

When you’re in a play with other actors, the rules are different. You play together, and listen and respond. If they ask you a question you answer it. But when you’re there alone…you have to have all of the answers. You have to cue yourself, and find other ways to remember lines — or the sequence of the story. It’s hard to explain, but it almost feels like I have to use a different part of my brain when I do the show.

Brian Maschka directed you last year and this year you’ll be directed by Chris Clavelli. How will the show differ this time?

Last year, the show was very frenetic. I was moving a lot. Changing the scenery to make different locations for each part of the story, acting out the little vignettes as different characters. It was very movement based, I think, because Brian’s mind works very quickly. He’s an active person. With Clavelli, I think audiences will see a much more calm show. It’ll be a lot more static and will be focused more on the actual characters — the people in the play — than it will on staging. I don’t think either is a better choice, but this season I feel David, the character I play, will sit down more.

You perform this show in the Florida Rep Studio Theater. What are the advantages and disadvantages of performing in the space?

I love this space. I can see every audience member. I can tell when they’re with me, and I can tell when they’re not. And since I can actually connect with them, it makes for a much more alive and electric experience.

It’s also the disadvantage. Because if I get an audience member or two or three that really doesn’t get it, or enjoy the adult subject matter — I can feel the daggers coming at me.

What do you hope the audience comes away with after seeing The Santaland Diaries?

I hope they come away refreshed from laughing and feel that they have escaped the stress of the season. I hope they are able to see a bit of themselves in what David has had to say, and I hope it helps them to see — through satire — what the holiday season should be about. •

For information about Florida Repertory Theatre, call 332-4488.

from the November-December 2010 issue

“Last year the show was
very frenetic. This season
will be focused more
on the characters.”