Zachariah Stearn plays David, an elf employed at a Macy’s department store, in “The Santaland Diaries,” which kicks off at the Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath Friday, Nov. 29. Courtesy William Lederer

BATH — Far from the bustle of the holiday shopping malls, one lone elf takes the stage to tell a sometimes off-color tale of life in the tinsel-filled trenches.

“The Santaland Diaries,” the stage version of humorist David Sedaris’ stories of playing one of Santa’s shorter sidemen at a Macy’s department store, takes to the Chocolate Church Arts Center Annex at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29. Subsequent shows are on Nov. 30 and Dec. 6-7 at the same time, and Dec. 1 and 8 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $18 in advance at, and $22 at the door.

Zachariah Stearn, a veteran actor from Windham, plays David in the one-person play, as well as a variety of characters, including St. Nick himself. Dan Burson of Bath is the show’s director.

Dan Burson, at left, is director of the Chocolate Church Arts Center’s presentation of “The Santaland Diaries.” William Lederer is the center’s executive director. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

The show was born out of a 1992 National Public Radio piece in which Sedaris read an essay composed of diary entries he kept when working at Macy’s Santaland. Actor and director Joe Mantello later adapted it into a widely-produced one-person show, which Burson directed at Portland Stage from 2008-13.

“It’s (Sedaris’) perspective on all of the people – the kids and the parents and the other elves that he meets there,” Burson said Nov. 21. “… It’s very iconoclastic, sometimes a little bit dirty, and generally really funny.”

Due to those elements, the show is limited to teenagers and adults. Interestingly, when the Chocolate Church plugged its performances of the all-ages friendly “Santa Diaries” a year ago, it made sure to point out that the romantic comedy was not “The Santaland Diaries.”


“They are quite different,” William Lederer, the arts center’s new executive director, pointed out.

A show like this is “a new thing for us, especially as we’re doing it downstairs in the Annex,” he said. “It was a desire to draw a slightly different crowd than we normally would.”

While the Chocolate Church is concurrently offering the all-ages “A Fairy Tale Christmas Carol” on its main stage, “we felt, why not offer something that was … a bit more edgy over here,” Lederer said. “It’s going to be hilarious.”

The play offers an off-beat take on the holiday season designed to offset its sometimes overwhelming nature, particularly in the giant stores rife with shoppers, decorations, and repeating Christmas music playlists. “It’s not critical of Christmas, but it’s very critical of this one particular department store vision of Christmas,” Burson said. “And I think that’s a really fun antidote that a lot people can relate to when they’re in this time of year.”

In one scene, David meets another elf actor who sees Santaland like a singles bar, and is always hitting on the married women who bring their kids there. In another, the parent of a child having a temper tantrum asks David to warn the youth that Santa will only bring him coal if he doesn’t behave.

“David takes that to the nth degree, and the kid is crying and terrified by the end of what he says,” Burson said.


Despite all the no-holds-barred satire, “The Santaland Diaries” does offer “a very sweet ending,” he noted.

Directing one person, who is out there without cues from other actors and shouldering all the lines, can be tough, but Stearn is “a really talented comic actor” and standup comic, which has trained him well for interacting with the audience as opposed to other actors, Burson said: “When I found out that I was going to do the show again, Zach was the first person I wanted to call.”

Being the sole person on stage for about 90 minutes is both fun and challenging, Stearn said Nov. 21. He embraces the character of David, “because he expresses so many thoughts, feelings and emotions towards the other characters that he talks about … he has some very strong opinions, and I love that,” Stearn said.

“I’ve never done a one-man show like this before,” but “The Santaland Diaries” has long been a dream role, he noted.

Stearn said as much to Sedaris once, over coffee.

“I had told him, ‘one day there’s gonna be an opportunity that comes along, and when it does, I’m gonna snag it.'”

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