nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 29, 2010
HO! is a double-bill of verse plays written and performed by Brian Dykstra. Folks familiar with Dykstra's work will be surprised neither by the form of these pieces—performance monologues in the shape of slam poetry—nor their heartfelt, if sometimes strident messages. The sweetness of the second play, "Sammy," may not be as expected. But it's the best part of the show.
"Ho and Co." is the first piece. It tells the story of a little known episode in the growing commercialization of Christmas, namely a lawsuit raised by Santa Claus against another mythical icon over the rights to a particular phrase that both had been known to use. (I may have already given too much away here.)
"Ho and Co." is written mostly in the simple sing-songy cadence of a Dr. Seuss story, and a lot of the fun comes from the way Dykstra—as performer and author—subverts the familiar style to make some significant and valuable points about crass business opportunism (some of the things Dykstra complains about here are things that the good Dr.'s estate has been guilty of, sad to say). The writing is funny and Dykstra, playing a variety of cartoon-voiced characters as well as narrator, is delightful to watch and hear. That said, the Seussian style—Boris Karloff reading How the Grinch Stole Christmas excepted—always scans better for me when I read it rather than hear it, and I found myself wanting the recitation to slow down so I could savor the rhymes and ideas.
"Sammy," which follows a brief intermission, is in a more contemporary, urban beat poet style. It's about a Vermont evergreen named Sammy who dreams of being one of the greatest Christmas trees in Manhattan. Specifically, he fantasizes about life in a swank Park Avenue mansion, tastefully and expensively festooned with ornaments, the centerpiece of a holiday celebration among the rich and famous. Alas, things do not go as Sammy expects. Dykstra spins a charming tale here of what the spirit of Christmas really means. You will not look at one of those ubiquitous sidewalk Christmas tree stalls in quite the same way once you've made Sammy's acquaintance; and, one hopes, you won't race past those ubiquitous homeless people on the same sidewalk quite so quickly and thoughtlessly, either.
The two plays make neat companions for one another, under the smooth and smart direction of Margarett Perry. A surprisingly lavish production design (courtesy of The Kitchen Theatre of Ithaca, where this production began) gives the show a lush, plush holiday feel. And Dykstra, jollier than we generally get to see him on stage, helps to remind us of what our priorities ought to be in this special season of giving and sharing.