Playwrights Horizons Presents THE THANKSGIVING PLAY Starring Jennifer Bareilles, Margo Seibert, and More
Playwrights Horizons continues its 2018-2019 season of "topicality and risk" (The New York Times) with the world premiere of PEN USA Literary Award for Drama-winning playwright Larissa Fasthorse's The Thanksgiving Play, October 12 - November 25 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 Playwrights Horizons staging of The Thanksgiving Play marks FastHorse's first full production in New York. Now based in Santa Monica, FastHorse grew up in South Dakota and is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Sicangu Lakota Nation. She came to theater in her 30s, after having sustained a career as a ballet dancer, then having written for the small screen. Feeling that the stories she wanted to tell-whether speaking with specificity to Indigenous experiences, or lampooning unjust structures-would inevitably be watered down in Hollywood, she turned to playwriting, penning works including What Would Crazy Horse Do?, Urban Rez, Landless, Average Family, Teaching Disco Squaredancing to Our Elders: a Class Presentation, and Cherokee Family Reunion.
FastHorse isn't part of a tribe that was anywhere near the origins of Thanksgiving, yet she is still frequently called on to answer questions about its history. As she began researching for the play, she realized she, like most Americans, knew very little about the true story-or lack thereof. Growing up in South Dakota in a period of attempted reconciliation between state and tribal governments-during which Columbus Day was changed to Native American Day, and "pilgrim stuff," as she calls it, was scarce-she was not exposed to the sentimental interpretations of the "First Thanksgiving" in which many schools engage. In her research, she delved into the darkness of many of these American elementary school rituals-and also learned that, in fact, the single "historic" feast on which this is all allegedly based "doesn't exist...In no one place does that mythological thing exist."
FastHorse explains that, after having been told numerous times that it was too hard to find Native American actors to play her characters, she wrote a play about white people-who, fittingly, are trying to create a play about Indigenous issues...in the absence of Indigenous people. Her biting observational humor about the very specific white-liberalness of the theater world-even the kids' educational theater world-seemingly knows no bounds. FastHorse says, "I live in Santa Monica, and work in American theater, and I'm a Native American person in this country, so I know all of these people intimately well-I meet them every day. White liberal America has to do this constant dance of not wanting to offend and not wanting to upset and trying to do everything right-it's this constant moving target that has no logic to it, but that dance is deadly for people like myself and my career. If you can't make mistakes, we can't learn and figure anything out together."
Moritz von Stuelpnagel describes his affinity with the material, saying, "I gravitate towards satires like The Thanksgiving Play because they can penetrate the conversations people are having with themselves by poking fun-by using comedy to reflect something-rather than evoking sentiment and pathos or wish fulfillment. The Thanksgiving Play is the type of comedy that destabilizes you, where you leave feeling askew, and you have to put something back together somehow. Larissa's done an amazing job at that."
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.
Performances of The Thanksgiving Play take place October 12 - November 25: Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 7:30pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 7pm.
Single tickets go on sale Tuesday, September 18 at 12 Noon.
A Six-Show Subscriptionpackage to Playwrights Horizons' 2018-19 season is now available ($310, four Mainstage and two Peter Jay Sharp Theater productions). In addition to discounts on all season productions, subscribers receive priority booking and seating, ticket exchange privileges, parking and dining discounts, and exclusive mailings of Playwrights Horizons Bulletins. Flex Passes (customizable bundle, $220+) and Memberships ($45 to join, $25 preview tickets) are also now on sale. Patron packages start at $1,750. Packages are available at phnyc.org.
Photo by Zack Dezon