Theater: Actor Harold Leaver lets loose in ‘Santaland Diaries’

It was never intended to be a franchise. When Horizon Theatre artistic director Lisa Adler rounded up actor Harold Leaver for a reading and later a run of the comic “The Santaland Diaries,” neither knew it would be a holiday perennial. Yet the show—out writer David Sedaris’s examination of a Christmas season he spent as a department store elf, adapted by Joe Mantello—opens next week for the 17th straight year. We caught up recently with out actor Leaver, who stars as the Sedaris alter ego Crumpet, as he, director Jeff Adler and co-stars Lala Cochran and Enoch King prepare for another season.

Georgia Voice: Did you all have any idea this would run so long?

Leaver: We thought it might run five or six years and then wear itself out, but our audiences continued to grow. We had more shows last year than any year.

How do you compare the current versions to that first year?

Well, I’ve aged 17 years! I think I’ve reached maximum comfort level and something else deeper happens. I think it might be that I have fewer shits to give, as I get older. It makes it more relaxed. All this stuff about the sweet Santa, the way the show ends, it has more and more meaning. The value of love in our lives—that is more important than anything else.

Have there been years when you resisted coming back?

There has been years where at the very end I questioned whether I wanted to come back next year. And that’s just exhaustion, because it is a really big commitment. We have six shows a week beginning the week before Thanksgiving, all the way through New Year’s. It takes a lot out of my life and a lot from the life of me and my husband John. But I miss it and John, every single year, wants me to be happy and loves that I am in the show. And his 96-year-old mother wants me to continue.

Compare the rest of your year to the craziness of this season.

It’s a seven-week gig. It’s a week and a half of rehearsal, then five and a half of the show. I work in an office job with the tie and the nametag and it’s straight-laced. And then—it explodes. Ten months out of the year I am repressed and then this happens. That’s the truth. In the office environment, even though there is a nondiscrimination policy in place, you really can’t be an out elf. You can’t be mischievous. You can’t say what is on your mind. But in “Santaland,” I get to do all of that.

What kind of ideas and references do you expect to bring in this year?

Each year everyone comes in with their ideas. I start making mine in July. I am excited about gay marriage, Donald Trump and “Cher: The Musical.”

During the run has there been a favorite year or performance?

Christmas Eve is always a special night. The show itself ends on Christmas Eve and that is when Crumpet has the encounter with the secret Santa. It feels extra sweet to talk about that on that day.

‘The Santaland Diaries’
Horizon Theatre
Nov. 20–Dec. 31