BWW Review: THE THANKSGIVING PLAY Serves Up Delicious Satire
If there was ever room on a plate for a heaping helping of delectable holiday conflict, it's inside a classroom where heartfelt high school drama teacher and teaching artist Logan (Shayna Blass) sets out with three well-intentioned white allies to write and produce a "fully-devised educational play" for elementary students that celebrates both Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Month. Having been granted funds from multiple organizations, Logan, an intellectual who is serious about political correctness and whose professional credits include a production of The Iceman Cometh for 15-year-olds(!), aims to create a respectful and historically accurate drama without actually showing the slaughter of any turkeys. (She's vegan.)
Logan's romantic partner Jaxton (Adam M. Flores), a "vegan ally" and street performer whose professional bio includes his acting in recycling plays at the farmers market, is here to support Logan's efforts and enhance his own résumé. Fellow History teacher and aspiring playwright Caden (Jonathan Spivey), whose spec script begins 4000 years ago, is all-in as well, and is honestly just thrilled that "professional" actors will finally be reading his work. Added to this eclectic mix is Alicia (Ani Djirdjirian), a stunningly gorgeous Native American actress, who's been hired based on her headshot (one of many that have been manufactured to qualify her to play a number of ethnic roles). Alicia is sooooo L.A., busting into the classroom with her Starbucks drink, sunglasses, and signature hair flip.
Of course, with Logan and the others trying so desperately to provide creative space to Alicia, insisting she participate in the process by giving her people a voice, they become overly accommodating. One might guess that oops - Alicia isn't Native after all but rather, "English, French, and a little Spanish." This is the first of many OH NO moments that lead the otherwise earnest foursome into deeper and deeper trouble. Their extreme "wokeness" becomes outrageously ridiculous with each character hysterically over-the-top throughout the play, the climax culminating in a mostly preposterous frenzy of self-inflicted drama. While the acting itself is first-rate, this team of professionals clearly having a ball with the material, the story route unfortunately offers characters little room for personal growth. That said, the play works brilliantly in spite of that, with white allyship itself being the unnamed butt of its own joke.
The Thanksgiving Play by Larissa Fasthorse is a comedy--a sharp satire with fast dialogue and nonstop culturally sensitive(?) insensitive(?) humor. It feels a little long in places but recovers again and again with short sketches interspersed that mirror and poke fun at the traditional school Thanksgiving plays in which we've all seen or participated. These, funnily enough, are actual ideas FastHorse has taken from Pinterest, and all of them are--at best--a little tone deaf. The play includes fresh, funny ideas that boldly challenge the revisionist history we've all been taught, including turkey bowling, bloody Native American heads, and bold jabs at every craze from yoga to dramaturgy. FastHorse, from the Sicangu Lakota Nation of Native Americans, nails it hard.
Look. Good theatre is supposed to shake and stir you up and spit you out again. If you can enjoy a refreshing comedy where the joke (after joke after joke) is on the bulk of its audience, you're going to love this very funny gem. Thank you, Larissa Fasthorse for writing this poignant piece about trying so hard and still getting it mostly wrong. You got it perfectly right.
The Thanksgiving Play, in its St. Louis premier, is directed by Amelia Acosta Powell (making her Repertory Theatre St. Louis directorial debut), with Rep debuts by the entire cast. It plays through February 9, 2020 in the Emerson Studio Theatre at Webster University's Loretto Hilton Center. For tickets and more information, http://www.repstl.org/events/detail/the-thanksgiving-play.