Review Roundup: What Do The Critics Think of Playwrights Horizons' THE THANKSGIVING PLAY?
Playwrights Horizons continues its 2018-2019 season with the world premiere of Larissa Fasthorse's The Thanksgiving Play, which officially opened last night in the Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd Street).
Directed by Tony Award nominee Moritz von Stuelpnagel (Hand to God and Present Laughter on Broadway), this side-splitting comedy follows well-intentioned white teaching artists as they scramble to create an ambitious "woke" Thanksgiving pageant that also celebrates Native American Heritage Month...and quells their white guilt...and satisfies their lofty artistic impulses...as part of an "All School Turkey Trot." Caden, an elementary school history teacher, offers rich historical context that spirals into unproductive tangents; yogi-actor Jaxton's performance of political correctness comically complicates the process; Logan, a high school drama teacher, wants to "elevate" the play by engaging a single Native American actor; and Alicia just wants to be onstage. The comedy follows their process of devising this cutting-edge Thanksgiving performance-allegedly for children-and flailing as privilege-checking and self-importance collide and get in their way.
The Thanksgiving Play's cast includes Jennifer Bareilles (Valer, Maybe Tomorrow) as Logan; Jeffrey Bean (Broadway: Bells Are Ringing, Amadeus) as Caden; Greg Keller(Broadway: Our Mother's Brief Affair; The Humans, Office Hour) as Jaxton; and Margo Seibert (Broadway: In Transit, Rocky) as Alicia.
Let's see what the critics are saying...
Jesse Green, The New York Times: The problem for "The Thanksgiving Play" is that, in splitting its satirical attention, it shortchanges the nominal subject. Though the one-note wrangling of the teaching artists is amusing, the absence of characters who could meaningfully oppose their dead-end liberal agenda leaves a hole at the heart of the story. I sometimes had the sour feeling I get when watching hidden-camera videos of people behaving badly; a little goes a long way. Here, a lot goes too far.
Sara Holdren, Vulture: It seems like my theme this week is going to be good intentions. FastHorse may have had them, but The Thanksgiving Play is neither funny nor humane. Its humor is snide and forced - you can hear audience members start to laugh fitfully because they desperately want to, and they're trying to do that "leap and the net will appear" thing - and its characters are cartoonish burlesques, contemptuously rendered. I wouldn't be surprised if the play's four actors are bone-exhausted at the end of each show, despite the 90-minute running time: These characters give nothing back. Not beauty, not tragedy, not comedy, barely even personality.
Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: Not all the jokes land, and even with its brief 90-minute running time, the evening ultimately has the feel of an overextended sketch. But the play delivers plenty of uproarious moments and, under the expert direction of Moritz von Stuelpnagel (who previously demonstrated his gift for comic staging with such Broadway plays as Hand to God and the recent revival of Present Laughter), the performers' uproarious turns make their characters as endearing as they are daffy.
Michael Sommers, New York Stage Review: Although The Thanksgiving Play does not achieve its potential as a satire-and the acting of this production is surprisingly indifferent-at least it contemplates an important subject. Certainly this comedy set inside a classroom provokes serious concern over how well history is taught to kids today.
Jesse Oxfeld, New York Stage Review: The Thanksgiving Play, at Playwrights Horizons, is a clever piece, with an interesting idea, by a sharp young playwright. Its only problem is that it's not nearly as provocative as it thinks it is.