November 18, 2012

Bob Keyes: The bad-boy elf returns

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

You'd better be careful if you see Dustin Tucker on the street or working out at the club.

click image to enlarge

Dustin Tucker as the cynical elf Crumpet in the Portland Stage production of “The Santaland Diaries” by David Sedaris.

Photos by Todd Brian Backus, courtesy of Portland Stage Company

click image to enlarge

Dustin Tucker is in his fifth year as Crumpet, a role that has continued to evolve under the team of Tucker and director Dan Burson.

ON STAGE

"THE SANTALAND DIARIES"

WHEN: Previews at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 25. Opens 7:30 p.m. Nov. 27 and runs Tuesdays to Sundays through Dec. 16. Regular show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday; additional matinee at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 6.

WHERE: Studio Theater at Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Ave., Portland

TICKETS: $17 and $20

INFO: 774-0465; portlandstage.org

 

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.

(Continued on page 2)

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