Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Who's Holiday! - One Woman, Starting Again


Reviewed by Judd Hollander

For the record, the Grinch did not pat Cindy Lou Who on the butt during that long ago Christmas Eve, nor was she possibly three years old at the time the two first met. In actuality, she was "no more than two", according to the historical documents which chronicled that initial meeting. Playwright Matthew Lombardo using this encounter from the much-beloved Dr. Seuss children's book "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" as the genesis for his one-person show Who's Holiday!, now at the Westside Theatre.

Little Cindy Lou Who (Lesli Margherita) is now all grown up, on the far side of 40, and somewhat the worse for wear. She lives in a trailer on the side of the Mount Crumpit, not far from her childhood home from which she has long since been exiled. The time is once again the evening of December the 24th, and Cindy Lou Who is eagerly awaiting the guests for the holiday party she has planned. While she waits, she finds herself looking back on her life and the circumstances which have brought her to this moment. Events which include a marriage against her parent's wishes; and one she was ill-prepared for when things started to go wrong. Said union, and its aftereffects, the reason many of those she once knew refuse now to have anything to do with her. Of particular pain to Cindy Lou Who is her continuing estrangement from her daughter, whom she hasn't seen in more than a decade.

At its heart, Who’s Holiday! is a story about second chances and forgiveness. While the underlying circumstances explored here may be rather familiar, the specific participants are certainly unique. Cindy Lou Who fully acknowledging her own responsibility on how her life has turned out, having recently completed a lengthy stretch in jail. She has since returned to as near her home turf as she can and is anxious to pick up the pieces of her life and start anew. The question being if those she still counts as her friends are ready to do the same.

The show takes a few pot shots at bigotry and hypocrisy; while also examining the truism of how one can find the more important friendships in the most unlikeliest of places. A great touch is when, during Cindy Lou Who's time in jail, her cell mate orders that she stop talking in rhyme, Something the former Whoville resident explains she is unable to do. Lombardo also tosses in mentions of other characters from the Dr. Seuss universe. Among them, Yertle the Turtle, Horton the Elephant, the Cat in the Hat, the Sneetches, the Lorax, and even the Grinch’s dog, Max.

While there is a charming idea for a story here, Lombardo isn't satisfied with just a gentle morality lesson, the objective, by the way, of pretty much all of the Dr. Seuss children’s stories. During the course of the show, Margherita often ignores the fourth wall, engages members of the audience directly and at times breaks into some decidedly non-Christmassy song and dance routines. There’s also more than a bit of salty language and sexual innuendo present. Yet while these non-Seussian moments are certainly quite enjoyable, they also damage what has come before, particularly the believability of the character Lombardo and Margherita have worked so hard to create.

It was also decided that the character of Cindy Lou-Who would be delivering most of her dialogue in the form of rhyming couplets. However, in order to execute such a creative choice effectively, the cadence of each verse should flow seamlessly into the next. A result which is often not the case here. Not only are there some things that don’t rhyme where they need to (i.e. "table" and "Playbill" or  "brawn" and "gone"), but there are also many times where the required amount of syllables and words in one spoken sentence don't match the next. Nit-picky as this may sound, this misstep continually jerks the audience out of the moment the play is trying to create.

Margherita is nothing short of brilliant as she takes on the role of both a beloved childhood icon and a woman who has had more than her fair share of pain. Her performance ranging from comic to heartbreaking as we come to understand the anguish and loneliness she is feeling. Carl Andress' direction is strong, though he's hampered by the unevenness of the text. Such moments particularly noticeable when the play transitions from one style of dialogue to the next.

David Gallo has done a very nice job with the set, the main portion of which is a rather lived-in trailer which has clearly seen better days. Though the lights and other holiday bric-a-brac that Cindy Lou Who has added doesn't completely dispel the atmosphere of things being not quite right. In keeping with the holiday season, there's snow all around albeit with a rather ominous no trespassing sign nearby.

An interesting yuletide offering, Who’s Holiday! is certainly a lot of fun, while having the potential to be so much more. However Lombardo seems unsure of just what the finished product should be, and as a result, what ends up on stage simply doesn't work as well as it should.

Due to the show's subject matter, no one under 15 years of age will be admitted.

Who’s
Holiday! A New Comedy with a Twist of Rhyme

Written by Matthew Lombardo

Starring: Lesli Margherita

Scenic Designer: David Gallo
Costume Designer: Jess Goldstein
Lighting Designer: Ken Billington/Jonathan Spencer
Sound Designer: Bart Fasbender
Wig Designer: Charles G. Lapointe
Production Supervisor: TINC Productions
Production Stage Manager: Jeffry George
Company Manager: Emma McElwee
Press Representative: Sam Rudy Media Relations/Shane Marshall brown
General Management: DR Theatrical Management/Kyle Provost
Executive Producer: Adam Hess

Directed by Carl Andress

Westside Theatre (Upstairs)
407 West 43rd Street
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or www.telecharge.com
Running Time: 60 Minutes, no intermission

Closes: December 31, 2017