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Actor shows new side in ‘Santaland’

Those who know Jamie Morris only from his performances as the drag mother hen in “The Facts of Life: The Lost Episode” or Hannibal Lichter in his spoof “The Silence of the Clams” may be surprised to find him playing an ordinary man — well, almost — in “The Santaland Diaries,” now at the Onyx.

Morris exhibits another side of his considerable talents in a one-man show for those who like their Christmas entertainment with a heavy dose of cynicism.

Author David Sedaris — well-known for his comic routines and his frequent columns in The New Yorker — gives us (along with stage adapter Joe Mantello) the scoop on what it’s like to be an elf at the New York Macy’s department store. It’s an always hilarious but not always pretty picture. The poor elves have to put up with women fist-fighting, children urinating in the fake snow, and Santas who have some peculiar (and poignant) ways of dealing with kids and their demanding parents.

At first, director Christopher Kenney has Morris sitting on a chair in front of a plain, white-canvas curtain. It’s an appropriate, simple look for a comic monologue. But shortly afterwards, we’re taken aback when the curtain opens and reveals an overwhelming detailed and cheerful set of oversized wrapped presents, candy canes, a Christmas tree and blinking lights. Jacob Muehlhausen’s design — along with Kenney’s clever way in delaying its “entrance” — gives the proceedings a surprising kick.

But, as it should be, it’s Morris who dominates. Whether in street clothes or in his green velvet elf costume, the actor comes across as a likable Everyman. He makes the 75-minute monologue sound like from-the-heart conversation.

His performance is obviously the result of years of experience and training. He milks the humor, knows how to handle laughs so they don’t interrupt the flow, is extremely physical, and yet, can intensify a joke with just a nod of the head or a quiet glare from the eye.

Muehlhausen’s lights beautifully punctuate his set. It’s amusing to see how well he can turn things sinister when Morris does a short routine on Santa vs. Satan.

This is great theater. Morris has done well in Vegas before, but this suggests the man has a depth of talent yet to be tapped.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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