Raleigh; Durham
The Santaland Diaries; A Trailer Park Christmas
Theatre in the Park; Common Ground TheatreForget Scrooge; our culture’s embodiment of the anti-Christmas spirit is named Crumpet. Since 1992, when David Sedaris kicked off his superstar career with this semi-autobiographical account of a department store yuletide, Crumpet the Macy’s Elf has moved from cutting-edge trend to holiday institution; this week, two Triangle theaters showcase repeat productions of last year’s popular performances. Sedaris’ brilliant story, adapted for the stage in 1996 by Joe Mantello (who directed Angels in America), is a one-elf wrecking ball that blasts Santa-sized holes through the institution of American consumerism (Crumpet tells a misbehaving child that “Santa no longer traffics in coal; instead, if you’re bad, he comes to your house and steals things”). Yet, much like that Dickensian humbug, Crumpet’s external cynicism exists in part to conceal an unmet longing for human kindness, a quality that keeps Sedaris’ disquieting sarcasm from becoming cruel and has pushed this show to the top of many merrymakers’ December to-do lists. In Raleigh, The Santaland Diaries, with Jesse Gephart in the role, opens Thursday, Dec. 11, at the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, and continues tonight through Sunday. In Durham, Dan Sipp (shown at left) continues Common Ground’s production for two more weekends with an appropriately late start of 9:30 p.m., at Common Ground Theatre.

Theatergoers in the mood for other subversive interpretations of the Christmas spirit should plan on a double bill at Common Ground. Prior to Sipp’s Santaland is A Trailer Park Christmas, an original, interactive production about a dysfunctional West Durham holiday, written and produced by locals Jeffrey Moore and Rachel Klem. A Trailer Park Christmas opens Thursday, Dec. 11, and runs through Dec. 21. Note that Santaland Diaries is performed on Fridays and Saturdays only.

For more information, visit www.theatreinthepark.com and www.cgtheatre.com. Sam Wardle

In Theaters EverywhereMilk, Gus Van Sant’s excellent new biopic of the first openly gay politician elected to office in the United States, opens with black-and-white images of gay men being carted away in paddy wagons. The scene feels like a distant chapter in our country’s historyalong with Jim Crow, Japanese internment camps and all the horrors of prejudice in 20th century Americabefore Van Sant cuts to Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) and Scott Smith (James Franco) in a New York City subway. The immediacy of their romance, and Milk’s inevitable political ambitions, place the film’s drama firmly in present tense, in a year that we elected Barack Obama president while passing several statewide propositions banning gay marriage and adoption. Though Van Sant began production on the film before Proposition 8 qualified for the California state ballot, the film’s relevance is captivating. Van Sant’s San Francisco in the ’70s is now replaced by new hopes (Lawrence v. Texas, marriage in Massachusetts and Connecticut) and new battles (AIDS, Prop 8, a thriving anti-gay sentiment). For those still fighting, Penn’s Harvey Milk provides a valuable corollary to Obama’s “Yes we can”: “Never back down.” For more on Milk, see Steven Petrow’s opinion column and Nathan Gelgud’s film review.

Chapel Hill
Holiday Honky Tonk Tour
The CaveWhile there’ll most definitely be pedal steel, it’d be a stretch to consider this an evening of pure honky tonk. (“Rocking and Atmospheric Country Bands Yule Tour” doesn’t exactly dance off the tongue, huh?) Tour organizers Gambling the Muse engage in old/new weird Americana that links The Band and the Felice Brothers as well as a rustic jangle that connects The Byrds to The Jayhawks. Calico Haunt, all deep and echoey and pysch-folky, resurrects Nikki Sudden. John Howie Jr. & the Rosewood Bluff is the new, local-star-stocked outfit from the former Two Dollar Pistols leader, and despite shades of proto-country rock (your Burrito Brothers and Michael Nesmiths), its sound is the closest to traditional country on the bill. The “Holiday” part is dead-on though: However you want to package the music, this is a three-band night worth celebrating. It all starts at 10 p.m. Rick Cornell