Every adult knows the roles. Whether as a kid climbing onto Santa's lap to snatch a spot on the "nice" list, as a parent forcing a child onto that same lap decades later or as a passerby watching the drama, the cliche of the mall Santa is part of the Christmas ritual. This year, Halifax actor Ian Mullan gives you a chance to see it all anew with David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries.
The play is a one-man show based on writer Sedaris' experience working as a Christmas elf in Santaland at Macy's. The story follows Sedaris' move to New York with the aspiration of being a writer for the soap One Life to Live, but his plans don't pan out. "The show is based on this person who has all these hopes and dreams and is trapped working as an elf," says Mullan. "Who hasn't worked a bad job and just thought, 'Oh my god, what am I doing here?'"
Mullan began looking for a one-man show because he wanted to bring something home to Ontario for Christmas (he'll perform Santaland in Carleton Place days after the Halifax show), and it wasn't long before he came across Sedaris' work.
"I've been told, 'Ian, you really remind me of David Sedaris in your humour,'" says Mullan. After reading the script, he knew he'd found his piece.
"It's definitely the type of person I am where you enter into something wholeheartedly and with a touch of sarcasm and cynicism," Mullan says of Santaland's main character, Crumpet the Elf. Sedaris "has the insight to sort of show a slice of North American culture in its truest form: people, children crying, parents telling their children they won't get any toys for Christmas. All those bizarre scenes that you see, he's able to just take them and tell them in a way that's funny."
Being an actor who's decided not to act full-time, Mullan can speak to the sense of that "other job." He works as a secretary for the government during weekdays, and runs his theatre company, Trrrash Productions, on the side. While he'd love to have acting as a full-time gig, he's realistic in knowing that, in a place as small and full of creative minds as Halifax, he's more suited to having acting as a smaller piece of the career puzzle.
"In one [life] I'm a secretary and need to file reports and submit financials, and in one I get on stage and prance around in an elf costume; it's the yin and yang," Mullan says, pointing out that he has no problem having both jobs.
Trrrash Prod is new to the theatre scene this year---Hedwig and the Angry Inch was its first production back in July. Mullan says he keeps telling people the company name comes from the sense of "rising out of the garbage that life throws at us," and while that's true, he has another reason.
"I just like trashy music," he says with a laugh, not wishing to divulge anything more. Regaining some seriousness, Mullan adds that he thinks people instantly get what Trrrash is about once they see the name: something grittier and alternative.
Santaland fits that bill. The play includes an age warning---not for kids younger than 13---and Mullan quickly scans the coffee shop for kids before explaining.
"In the true spirit of the show, as much as David Sedaris makes fun of all these ridiculous things happening at Christmas, I think he knows, and he knows the audience knows, that Christmas is for children...I don't want to ruin Christmas for anyone."