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‘Who’s Holiday’ a saucy Seussian spectacular

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‘Who’s Holiday’ a saucy Seussian spectacular (photo by Bill Kuykendall)

BANGOR – We’re all intimately familiar with the story of the Grinch. We all know about his disdain for Christmas and his malicious attempts to steal the joy of the season from the innocents of Whoville and, yes, his subsequent change of heart.

But what happened after that?

Penobscot Theatre Company looks to answer that very question with their production of Matthew Lombardo’s “Who’s Holiday,” running through December 26 at PTC’s secondary space at 51 Main Street in Bangor. However, you should be warned – while the original tale was aimed at kids, this show – directed by Cheryl Snodgrass and starring A.J. Mooney – very much is NOT.

What’s the show about? Let’s try to tell it like the maestro would, shall we?

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We’re welcomed into a crumbling trailer

By a drunk blowsy Who who swears like a sailor

She offers her story, one of sadness and woe

About how you don’t know what you think that you know

See, after the day the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes

Young Cindy Lou Who received many surprises

You’d think better things might have come and gone on

But if that’s what you’re thinking, your thinking is wrong

You see, Cindy Lou grew up and married that Grinch

But her new domesticity was hardly a cinch

Do you have questions about the appropriateness?

Suffice it to say, things were far from harmonious

She struggled as she lived in her hubby’s old cave

Dreary and dank, it was a Who-less enclave

Eventually, she found herself pushed way too far

And followed a path that was frankly bizarre

Taking this journey, she would try and she’d fail

At one point, she'd even get taken to jail

Before winding up back at the outskirts of town

Surrounded by Whos who don’t want her around

And yet, despite all of it, she soldiers on through it

It’s not always great, but hey, you couldn’t do it

Say what you will, Cindy Lou is resilient

Which makes “Who’s Holiday” utterly brilliant

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I’m no Dr. Seuss, but that’s not bad.

“Who’s Holiday” is a foul-mouthed farce, one that both subverts the surface-level joy of this beloved tale while also leaning hard into the darkness that lurks beneath. Because that’s the thing, isn’t it? That dichotomy of light and shadow is a huge part of why we love Dr. Seuss so much and why his work has withstood the test of time. There’s an edge there, should you choose to see it … and playwright Matthew Lombardo has definitely chosen to see it.

It’s a great choice for PTC, a perfect bit of counterprogramming to the relentlessly wholesome “Miracle on 34th Street.” That show is the “nice,” while this one is EXTREMELY naughty.

The 51 Main Street space lends itself well to this more intimate show, allowing for a degree of direct engagement that is much tougher to come by in larger spaces. That direct engagement invites the audience in, ironically making considerably more room for the performance. The one-woman nature of the show also translates well to that direct relationship between performer and audience, even as it makes significant demands on that performer.

Bringing a role like this – a show like this – to life requires a special kind of performer. Happily, PTC has just such a performer in A.J. Mooney. Anyone who has ever watched Mooney perform (or has been lucky enough to perform alongside her) knows that she brings a unique energy to the stage every time she steps upon it. She has a particular gift for the broadly comedic that suits a show like this one perfectly. She is a coarse, cackling whirlwind from the moment she enters the space, playing the aging Cindy Lou for big laughs while also still managing to elicit the occasional moment of pathos. Granted, even the pathos is funny – she’s that good – but it all comes together to create a hilariously hot mess.

Oh, and just for a little bump in degree of difficulty, the whole damned thing is in verse.

Steering a ship such as this presents plenty of challenges too, but director Snodgrass seems to have navigated them deftly enough. “Who’s Holiday” demands a great deal of collaborative energy between actor and director; it seems clear that that energy is present here. You can never be certain from what place choices spring in this kind of partnership; well-made, well-conceived decisions of that ilk tend to leave no fingerprints.

Of course, for this whole deal to work, you need the right space. Again, PTC nails it, thanks to the thorough production design work of Kat Johnson. You wouldn’t think it would be possible to bring forth feelings of whimsy from a decrepit single-room house trailer, but here we are – Johnson’s use of patterns and colors offsets the relative bleakness of our surroundings, creating a slightly jarring disconnect that’s just right. There’s a Seussian spirit to it all, the space marked by touches large and small that bring it to vivid life.

“Who’s Holiday” is an absolute hoot, packed with foul-mouthed charms and more heart than you might expect. Sure, it gets a little dark at times – so does Dr. Seuss. And with a dynamo like A.J. Mooney at the center of the action, you’re guaranteed a bold, beautiful good time. Hilarious and heartfelt, “Who’s Holiday” is the perfect off-color Yuletide theater experience.

To sum up:

Just know that “Who’s Holiday” is quite the to-do

Due to A.J. Mooney as that Cindy Lou Who.

Last modified on Friday, 10 December 2021 12:44

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