Tuesday, November 28, 2017

118 (2017-2018): Review: WHO'S HOLIDAY! (Seen November 27, 2017)

“It’s Not Easy Being Green”

Full disclosure: I’ve been suffering from a bad case of Grinchitis since 1966. That’s when, after winning on “Jeopardy” I followed up during my second appearance by brain-freezing on a “Final Jeopardy” question about Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It didn’t matter that I’d only recently read the story to my preschool daughter; I can still remember my wife in the studio audience, seeing my desperation, urgently trying to send the answer to me by ESP. Ever since, mention of the Grinch makes me feel as if my skin were turning green. 
So maybe that’s why I found Who’s Holiday! A New Comedy in Couplets—a satirically campy take on the 1957 Seussian classic that recently won a fair use lawsuit against the Seuss estate—much less funny than those around me. Matthew Lombardi’s hour-and-15-minutes long, shaggy beast story, written, like Seuss’s book, in rhyming couplets, is notable mainly for giving the ultra-talented Lesli Margherita (Matilda, Dames at Sea) a one-woman platform to demonstrate her arsenal of physical, vocal, and comedic weapons. Directed by Carl Andress, some of it is definitely laugh-provoking but too much is sophomoric, failing to do her larger-than-life persona the justice it deserves.

Margherita plays Cindy Lou Who, a sweet, little girl in Seuss’s original, now a bleached-blond, roots-showing, tackily-dressed, big-bosomed, substance-abusing sexpot in her mid-40s. This flashy dame lives in a tchotchke-packed, holiday-decorated, cruddy old trailer (terrifically created by David Gallo) on top of snowy Mount Crumpit in the town of Whoville.

Seeing us in the audience, she excitedly tells us of the Christmas party she’s happily planning, despite being persona non grata in Whoville. She recounts the story of her encounter with the green, gross Grinch when she saw him stealing her family’s Christmas gifts, and of how his multiple burglaries were resolved when he was moved by the town’s spirit and gave everything back.

She recalls growing up to become the “ugly old fart’s” best friend, fall in love with and marry him, and bear his green child. Cindy wants us to see the need to accept “a mixed marriage of color”: “Just love who you want,” she raps. Meanwhile, her guests—like Thidwick, the big-hearted moose, and Yertle, the turtle—keep bailing on their visits with lame excuses.

Cindy Lou’s story grows increasingly grotesque and pseudo-weepy, as per the subplot about her estranged, green daughter, Patti, whose ironic fate some will guess; this is Christmas, however, so a sentimental twist—there’s no place like home for the holidays, after all—warms our hearts before we leave. 
During her potty-mouthed chronicle, Cindy Lou, who often steps out of the trailer onto the forestage, frequently turns her wickedly comic tongue on various audience members, including latecomers, while taking hits on a bong, sloshing down booze, or smoking cigarettes. At one point she brings a volunteer up from the audience, makes fun of him (nearly calling him a word that rhymes with “tag”), and mock-ridicules him throughout the show. Raunch is persistent, as when we’re told that what Grinch gave Cindy Lou for her 18th birthday grew three sizes in one day; kids, it wasn’t his shrunken heart.

The constant rhyming, which teeters on tiresomeness (this isn’t Richard Wilbur translating The Misanthrope), is hit and miss; some of it is clever, as when Cindy Lou takes a hit of hash and says “One quick puff then I’ll see what my plan is./Just give me a sec . . . oh, this shit is bananas”; some of it is clunky,  like rhyming prescription” with “conniption,” or “depression” with “impression.”
Cindy Lou is so colorfully outrageous, her voice so big, and her manner so flippantly flamboyant that Margherita, voluptuous as she is, could almost be mistaken for a drag artist. Her vocal chops rock the joint in two numbers, one proving that white girls can indeed rap. She wears two glitzy, holiday-colored, bare-shouldered outfits, designed by Jess Goldstein, one a flared, red, polka-dotted number and the other a bustier with high heels and red tights tighter than skin. The lighting, by Ken Billington and Jonathan Spencer, paints everything with vibrant glitter.

Who’s Holiday! didn’t cure my Grinchitis, I’m afraid, but it seems to be a holiday bonbon that many others are happy to be tasting.


Westside Theatre
407 W. 43rd St., NYC
Through December 31