Topher Payne shines as Crumpet in Horizon Theatre’s production of The Santaland Diaries, written by award-winning satirist David Sedaris. Topher gave us some insight on his character and this production celebrating its 19th anniversary this year.
W: So, I’ve never experienced The Santaland Diaries, what’s special about Crumpet?
We meet him just as he’s moved to New York, where he’s determined to make his fortune doing… something. Maybe he could write for his favorite soap opera, or just make friends with celebrities and that could be a full-time thing? He doesn’t really have any marketable skills, but he’s got plenty of optimism and imagination. So after weeks of going without a job, he manages to land this gig at Macy’s Santaland, working as an elf. And he is bound and determined to make the best of it, even as he keeps encountering the lineup of lunatics you find when you work retail. He doesn’t judge them, really, he’s just horribly fascinated.
W: What makes The Santaland Diaries different than other “holiday” shows?
I love that it acknowledges how completely nuts we can be this time of year. We set these expectations for the season- you wanna have a perfect gathering like those families in the Publix commercials. You gotta set money aside to buy gifts, then figure out what those gifts are gonna be, get the house decorated, go to all these parties… So we spend the last six weeks of every year wandering around in a haze of lightly manic anticipation. “The Santaland Diaries” points out the absurdity of that, and gives us all permission to let go for ninety minutes and laugh. Dang it, we’re performing a public service here.
W: What’s your favorite David Sedaris piece?
The “Jesus Shaves” essay from “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” in which he attempts to explain American Easter traditions to his French class- when you think about it, the Easter Bunny is actually a really tricky concept to explain. It’s one of my all-time favorite stories ever.
W: What can the audience expect to take away from this production of The Santaland Diaries?
You could do a version of this play where Crumpet is just a jerk. But I don’t know what the point of that show would be. One of the things I love about the Horizon production is the total lack of cynicism- we’ve got quite enough of that these days, don’t we? So we laugh about how ludicrous it is to attempt to manufacture magic and make everything perfect, and in the process we stumble upon what actually makes this time of year quite wonderful. Then we send you home laughing, and with all the warm fuzzies.
W: How do you keep a production that is done often like this, fresh and original?
I just flat-out love having the chance to tell this story. So that’s part of it, and then the audience keeps it fresh. The energy they bring into the theatre every night gets me amped up, and their reactions can give an entirely new meaning to a moment, which is really awesome. Every night when I put on those candy cane tights, I know we’re about to take a wild ride together.
The Santaland Diaries now through December 31st at the Horizon Theatre. You can get your tickets here! Look out for our review on the show next week!