It must be said: Veronica Garza is a force to be reckoned with. The multi-talented performer gets the chance to show off both her acting chops and her singing voice in Matthew Lombardo’s flawed-but-fun Who’s Holiday. Garza plays Cindy Lou Who—yes, that Cindy Lou Who—but a version of the character far removed from the adorable three-year-old we all remember from the Grinch cartoon. It seems that meeting and befriending the huge green man-beast did a number on the child’s fragile mind—he did claim to be Santa, after all—but the real beasts in the life of Cindy Lou have been the other denizens of Whoville, who just could not accept how close she had gotten with the Grinch.
The Grinch, in this telling, actually proves to be more beast than man as time goes on, and poor Cindy Lou suffers because of it. Now living in a trailer on Mt. Crumpet (fully decorated for the season), she recounts for us the story of that fateful day and everything that followed it. After a life that has not been kind—an abusive marriage to the Grinch, ostracizing by the Whos, having her daughter taken away—the woman we meet is a hard-drinking smoker, prone to indulge her penchant for (at times extreme) sexual humor and vulgar language, but desperate to be anything but what she is—alone.
This night, in fact, is supposed to be a sort of coming out for her. She has invited all sorts of Seussian characters to a Christmas party in her trailer and hopes to re-engage with her community. As the play goes on, though, she receives a series of messages containing lame excuses to pull out of the affair at the last minute…so she turns to the people who are present: the audience. Garza has more fun than should be legal with her interactive, Seussian-rhymed dialogue with the folks who have come out for the night as she tells us of her life. She engages individual audience members in conversation and jokes bawdily with them, eschewing political correctness, even serving hors oeuvres. (On opening night, one of her targets was a gay man, and she was all over that, calling back to the conversation with edgy one-liners for the rest of the show.) This is a decidedly, delightfully R-rated play; do not bring your kids unless you feel like engaging in all sorts of uncomfortable discussions.
Garza, in a disheveled Cindy Lou Who wig—because, apparently, she has never doffed that bizarre stylistic quirk despite how high-maintenance it must be—absolutely owns the audience with her over-the-top performance, leaving us all in hysterics as she jokes about living with a giant man-monster (noting, for example, that she discovered when they had sex that “the thing between his legs grew three sizes”). As I mentioned, Garza sings too—Christmas songs and even a comic rap (“Bet you didn’t see that coming,” she says, noting that “some white girls can rap”).
This is all great fun in a bittersweet way as we laugh with her while simultaneously feeling bad for how difficult everything has been for her due to a chance encounter in the middle of the night and the bigoted reactions of friends and family. The story takes an ill-advised turn in the middle, though, as we learn about some very dark things that have befallen her and the show almost completely drops its well-earned ribald humor and becomes something closer to serious drama. Lombardo’s temptation to ground the play—which does indeed include many elements that aren’t actually all that funny when divorced from the moment and the character we are watching—is understandable, but I think he should have just trusted in his own ability to make us feel for Cindy Lou without a side-trip into the ugly underbelly of humanity. (Don’t we all get that already from the way her community has treated her and their racist reactions to a relationship between a Who and a big green whatever-he-is?) What Lombardo does here divides the play in half tonally, and the two parts don’t really work that well together even though the playwright does give us a sweet, Christmas-miracle ending.
Garza’s performance here, workshopped with and enhanced by talented director Christopher Pazdernik, is what makes the play work as well as it does, though the visual elements of the production are also outstanding. Angela Weber Miller’s scenic design plunks us down in a battered trailer on snowy, mountainous terrain, and it is enhanced by Shelley Strasser’s lighting. This is a one-woman show that is a feast for the eyes. Even if it succumbs a bit to an inconsistent tone, there is more than enough fun to be had here.
Who’s Holiday, which is a little over an hour long, is playing until Dec. 26 at Theater Wit.