You’d better be careful if you see Dustin Tucker on the street or working out at the club.
He may be scouting you.
“I meet people that are in the show all the time,” said Tucker, who reprises the role of the naughty elf in David Sedaris’ true-life comedy “The Santaland Diaries.”
“I met this guy in September who reminded me of Ginger Snap (a character in the show). I shook his hand and just laughed. As life happens, as you meet people, you gain insight into these characters.”
The show previews Friday in the Studio Theater at Portland Stage Company. Through Dec. 16, Tucker will perform the one-man comedy 30 times.
With his snarky performance, Tucker has become a holiday sensation for those who like their Christmas decked out with cynicism.
This will be the fifth year Tucker has played the role of the wicked elf Crumpet. The show did well in the first year, selling out by word of mouth after the run began. In years two and three, the entire run sold out before opening night. Last year, the run sold out after the first week.
Tucker won’t reveal his future plans for “The Santaland Diaries,” but it’s entirely possible this will be the last year for him in this role. In show business, it’s always better to go out while demand is high rather than ride a downward wave.
And to be sure, Tucker enjoys this ride.
“This is just a very fun show, a very funny show and a great show to do,” he said.
A modern-day satirist, Sedaris wrote “The Santaland Diaries” based on his experience working as an elf during the holidays at a major department store. Sedaris employs a cruel wit, skewering the masses of sugar-fueled shoppers with bitter jabs.
It almost goes without saying that this show is for mature audiences.
Tucker, who lives in Portland, is meant for the role. He’s small, wiry and wildly energetic. He seems perfectly comfortable cavorting around in a silly elf costume with candy cane leg stockings.
The show’s humor revolves around him telling stories during his break from herding pushy parents and their snotty kids through Santaland. Crumpet uses his break to steal nips from a bottle of gin. Tucker is so fresh with his performance, one might assume it’s real gin he’s drinking. But as a recovering alcoholic, the actor sticks to water.
This year, he’s toying with replacing the Camel Lights in the play with a marijuana joint. Again, Tucker is an ex-cigarette smoker, and he likes the idea of a pot-smoking elf. Whether that alteration makes it into the performance will depend on rehearsals.
Tucker is a fan of Sedaris’ writing. He has read many of his books, and heard him read and talk. He spends a lot of time with Sedaris’ audio books.
In this show, Tucker isn’t playing an imagined character, but Sedaris himself. The better Tucker knows Sedaris, his voice and mannerisms, the better his portrayal will be.
“I think there is something so funny about his voice. I listen to ‘Santaland’ every year. He is just off-handed. He doesn’t try, he is just funny. It’s very natural,” he said.
Tucker spends about a month before the opening going over the script. He doesn’t change much in the show year to year — same words, same costumes, same set. But he does look for spots where he can hone his delivery or find ways to draw more laughs.
Dan Burson has directed Tucker in this show each year. After four years working together, it’s a quick process for these two to get this show ready to go, he said.
“We’ve got it down to about a week of rehearsals. We don’t need a whole lot of rev-up time,” Burson said. “The rehearsal process is really about holding on to the things we really like. If there are things we didn’t like, we will look for ways we can change those and make them better.
“It’s always easy to re-imagine things. What’s harder to do is to figure out how to do it in a way that fits with things that already work.”
Burson enjoys collaborating with Tucker because he is an agile actor. Tucker excels at comedy, but is also highly regarded as a serious actor. He’s open to taking direction and is fearless, Burson said.
“He is completely open to trying pretty much anything once, which is something I always love to see in an actor,” he said. “That’s really great for a director. You know that every possible stone will be overturned, and he will do it in a really professional way.”
With its intimate seating, the studio theater is well-suited for this show, Burson said. Because the audience is so close, it’s possible for Tucker to make direct connections with individuals. He looks them in the eye, gets right up on them. It’s a personal performance.
“A show like this has conspiracy between the audience and the performer,” Burson said.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: