Image – The Alley Theater.
All the WHOS in Whoville
By Todd Zeigler
Directed by Kathryn Furrow
Reviewed by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Is it possible that Saint Nicholas is a Time Lord? If so, might the sleigh he uses to deliver presents be a TARDIS? It would explain a great many things. All the WHOS in Whoville makes a surprisingly logical argument for a connection between these two cultural phenomena via Dr. Seuss. The unlikely mash-up shouldn’t work, but this intelligent, if overly complicated, script makes it work by making a careful study of the details of each source.
The story begins in Whoville where, many years after The Greench’s (the change in spelling most likely to avoid legal troubles) transformation, he continues to serve as kindly benefactor and Christmas icon. Cindy Lou Who is now grown with a child of her own, Mary Sue Who, but she has become, for mysterious reasons, estranged from both her family and the spirit of Christmas. Santa makes a rather clumsy arrival, accidentally erasing his own memory with a Sonic Screwdriver. Why is he carrying one of those you ask? Perhaps because he is The Doctor.
The Doctor has been mistaken for historical figures before, and his ability to move back and forth through time is here offered as the method in which the nearly simultaneous delivery of presents to millions of children is accomplished on Christmas Eve. Add the notion that The Greench might actually be an alien, and the action moves solidly into Dr. Who territory.
Combining The Greench and The Doctor may seem like the height of anachronism, but there are actually more parallels than you might realize: both involve famous Doctors, both are long-standing cultural icons dating back a half-century, and both connect to the Christmas holiday through annual television broadcasts. But Todd Zeigler’s script doesn’t settle for just exploiting the obvious, and uses the relationships to create a new story of holiday redemption and reaffirmation.
Act one is very funny, and establishes an intricate framework for what will develop into a very complex narrative. A confident understanding of both worlds is displayed, and the initial blend is adeptly handled. Somewhere around the 45 minute mark the pace drags somewhat, and by then, we seem entirely in The Doctor’s universe. Just before the intermission, the situation has become so dire that he calls upon ten previous incarnations of The Doctor. Any resemblance to the recently aired Day of the Doctor is coincidental, since this script was finalized long before it aired. Mr. Zeigler arguably has even more fun with the concept of multiple Doctors interacting, and care is given to making a fair representation of each individual personality.
Act two pushes even further down the metaphysical wormhole of Dr. Who story devices, perhaps too much so. Once he has populated his stage with so many characters (20 in total) the playwright seems intent on giving them all a fair amount of attention. It is a laudable attitude to be so generous and democratic, but it weighs down the narrative just as things need to accelerate. As enjoyable as it is, I felt it could lose about 20 minutes, almost all of it Doctor shenanigans that involve nearly indecipherable plot mechanics and lead to exhausting multiple climaxes.
The production almost overcomes this problem through the energy of the performances, particularly the delightfully cheeky work of an all-star parade of Doctors that include Herschel Zahnd doing a wicked David Tennant, Christopher Shiner as Christopher Eccelston and John Aurelius as Matt Smith, the current (not for much longer) incarnation. Bill Breuer, Ben Unwin, Josh O’ Brien, Adrielle Perkins, Harrison Coffman, Lucian Tomes and Sean Childress are the others, all stylishly outfitted and clearly having a good deal of fun.
Mr. Zeigler essays the primary Doctor with a knowing Scottish brogue and boundless energy that drives the enterprise most of the way home. Katie Dearmond plays the colorless Cindy Lou Who with conviction that lifts the character from the doldrums of her scolding refutation of Christmas. As her sister, Suzy Q Who, Jane Mattingly brings a pixyish charm that is the best evocation of the true Seussian Who, while Laurene Scalf as their mother Bettie Boo Who does the same with a dash of unexpected flirtatiousness. Sydney Phillips as Cindy’s daughter Mary Sue Who is also stuck playing the same dour quality as her mother, but she solidly occupies the role of the innocent who must be redeemed by the holiday spirit the Doctor seeks to restore.
And as The Greench, Daniel Smith is sheathed in green spandex and makeup and unashamedly embraces both the absurdity of the costume and the reignited villainy of the character. He also seems to be enjoying himself almost too much. Jack Francis makes for a narrator with dignity enough to almost seem out-of-place in these proceedings, except that hisis a grounding onstage presence.
Director Kathryn Furrow makes good use of elaborate and well-crafted projections by Herschel Zahnd and manages the heavy traffic of bodies with clean blocking that only suffered a few clunky exits. In a staging that seeks visceral impact from its lighting and sound effects, I would not have minded the speakers having more volume, but the low-budget design work is overall very good.
People looking for charming neo-Seussian Christmas entertainment suitable for families will perhaps find this complex story a challenge for young attention spans (2 hours and 30 minutes with intermission) and it seems pitched for an audience that grew up with Seuss and is now committed to the resurgent Doctor Who franchise. In fact, if you don’t know The Doctor at all, you might find yourself lost in the density of the dozen Doctors’ dialogue. But for Whovians of various levels, All the WHOS in Whoville is nothing less than a must-see.
All the WHOS in Whoville
December 6-21, 2013
Tickets: $17 Adults, $15 Military/Seniors, $8 Students
All shows at 7:30 pm
The Alley Theater
1205 East Washington Street
Louisville, KY 40202