By Lynn Venhaus
If you are seeking a sugar-coated Hallmark Christmas movie, “Who’s Holiday” is not that kind of warm-and-fuzzy. Nevertheless, the amusing one-woman show is an engaging cup o’ cheer – unless your heart is two sizes too small.
If you are familiar with past holiday season productions at Stray Dog Theatre, then you are aware of their penchant for a non-traditional offering, and this suits that M.O.
The R-rated merriment runs Dec. 2 – 18, Thursday through Sunday, with a Sunday matinee Dec. 12, at the Tower Grove Abbey – only all performances are sold out, but one can get on their in-person waiting list before each show. –
An irreverent, bawdy post-childhood spin on Dr. Suess’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is a festive communal experience, which could get you in the mood for the holidays – especially when you sing along to an evergreen sentimental song.
Laced with adult humor, this sweet and salty 2017 work by Matthew Lombardo is a natural vehicle for spirited comic actress Sarah Polizzi, who portrays the grown-up Cindy Lou Who. The character is both naughty and nice, and the effervescent performer revels in that aspect.
Cindy Lou was the adorable 2-year-old Who caught the famous green ogre stealing all the Christmas presents, the Christmas tree and the feast because he did not want anyone to enjoy the holiday. To carry out his nefarious deed, he was dressed as Santa Claus and his dog Max accompanied him. That did not deter the Whos from celebrating, however.
The grouchy Grinch became Dr. Seuss’ legendary storybook villain in 1957, and then immortalized in an animated TV special in 1966, narrated by Boris Karloff. In the years since, it has been adapted several times, including a live-action film starring Jim Carrey that came out in 2000, then a musical followed in 2007, and then a computer-animated feature with Benedict Cumberbatch in 2018 and a live television musical adaptation starring Matthew Morrison last year.
So, it helps to have some sort of working knowledge of the Dr. Seuss book and his first villain.
No longer an innocent, Cindy has returned to living on Mount Crumpit, north of Whoville, and ostracized by her people. Her fall from grace included an illicit romance with the big green beast, teen pregnancy, drug addiction and a prison term. Does not sound very jolly, does it?
So, she engages the audience in cocktails and conversation while sharing her shocking tale of woe.
Despite her hard times, the irrepressible Cindy Lou shows an indomitable spirit – with a beaming smile and a cheery demeanor, although she can get as sour as that grumpy guy – and get a little testy with the neighborhood hooligans. She is ready to put the sordid past behind her and start anew. In a convivial mood, she has invited guests over. But no one shows, much to her dismay. What’s a Party Girl to do? She just wants to have fun.
Polizzi also has the difficult task of speaking in rhyme, the kind that Dr. Seuss was known for in his 60 books, without it sounding sing-song-y, and she accomplishes that.
In a one-person play, the solo character always has a heavy weight to carry an entire show, but it’s only an hour – and she feeds off the audience’s energy with ad libs and being as sparkly as the festive vintage set.
Scenic designer Josh Smith festooned Cindy Lou’s tiny trailer with enough colored lights and kitschy seasonal decorations to make the yuletide bright – and it is delicious eye candy, with lighting designer Tyler Duenow’s effective touches.
Megan Bates’ playful costume design is simple but fetching – retro housewife turned into a livelier vixen.
The twisted tale benefits from Artistic Director Gary F. Bell’s light-hearted direction and it is a very smooth, well-rehearsed production. And Justin Been’s sound design always elevates a show – and his music choices are very smart.
Playwright Lombardo isn’t mean-spirited, just having fun with a parody that’s not unlike a Hollywood child actor’s downfall that makes tabloid fodder – only he exaggerates it to cartoonish proportions.
This isn’t his first production in St. Louis – he wrote the intense heavy drama “High,” which ran as a world premiere-pre-Broadway tryout at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in 2010 and starred Kathleen Turner as a nun who was an addiction counselor.
“Who’s Holiday” has both a peppery girls-gone-wild vibe and an affectionate nostalgia for Christmases past. It is certain to leave you feeling merry and bright.
“Who’s Holiday” is a solo show that runs slightly more than an hour and is presented Dec. 2, 3, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18 at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Dec. 12. The show is sold out, but you may get on a waitlist at the door each performance and must be there in person. Call 314-865-1995 for more information. Visit the website www.straydogtheatre.org
Those with tickets should be aware that seats will only be held until 10 minutes prior to curtain.
Masks are required to be worn by all guests, regardless of vaccination status, at all times while inside the theater and while in the lobby unless actively drinking. They still maintain social distancing throughout the theater. Stray Dog Theatre recommends, but does not require, that all guests be vaccinated.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.