Playwright Matthew Lombardo’s Who’s Holiday!, which bring bestiality, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and prison culture to a place a lot like Whoville, is parody and therefore “fair use,” a U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled. The summary order brings a planned production a step closer to Broadway.
“The 2nd Circuit’s decision is a win for both Mr. Lombardo and the First Amendment,” said Lombardo’s attorney, Jordan Greenberger. “On its face the play is a parody, and we are thrilled that the court recognized Mr. Lombardo’s right of free expression.”
Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which oversees the estate of author Theodor Seuss Geisel, charged in 2016 that the play violated copyright protections and wrote cease-and-desist letters, leading to the cancellation of an Off Broadway staging.
Lombardo, insisting Who’s Holiday! is a parody and protected by the First Amendment, filed a lawsuit against DSE in Federal District Court in Manhattan.
Read the appeals court decision here.
Who’s Holiday! is a one-woman play about Cindy Lou Who, the little Whoville tyke from How The Grinch Stole Christmas! Now grown up and abusing drugs in a trailer park, she’s done hard time for murdering her husband, the Grinch, and, according to a New York Times article from last year, “addresses the audience in profanity-laced rhyming couplets that evoke the rollicking rhymes of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.” The Times quoted one of the play’s couplets: “When I told my parents they weren’t pleased in the least / I mean, who wants their baby girl deflowered by a beast.”
Last September, a federal judge ruled that the play was, in fact, parody and could not be mistaken for an official Seuss production. The U.S. Court of Appeals on Friday affirmed that decision, stating, “We find Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ arguments to be without merit. The district court correctly determined that the play is a parody, imitating the style of the Grinch for comedic effect and to mock the naïve, happy world of the Whos.”
Lombardo’s play, the appeals court noted, “does use the Grinch’s characters, setting, plot, and style,” but does so “in service of the parody. The Play does not copy verbatim or quote from the original book, and while it does recount the plot, it does so to invoke the original. Thus, the district court properly weighed this factor in Lombardo’s favor.”
The three-judge panel unanimously affirmed the lower court ruling, stating that “the public’s interest in free speech here far outweighs DSE’s interest in protecting its trademarks.”
According to a spokesperson for the production, a producing team, led by Ben Feldman (Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, Pippin, On the Town), is planning a limited Broadway run later this year.