When four white people–an earnest vegan, a militant new-ager, a frustrated history teacher, and a paid actress–get together to produce a culturally sensitive play about the first Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Month…well, it gives one pause.
In the World Premiere of Larissa FastHorse‘s fast-paced satire The Thanksgiving Play at Artists Repertory Theatre, four characters search for the true meaning of Thanksgiving. Since this is a school district-mandated production, it must be done with a great deal of sensitivity and political correctness. Think avocado toast. Think exercise balls. Yoga anyone? But nary a Native American in the room.
School drama teacher Logan (Sarah Lucht) is the director of the project. Her partner Jaxton (Michael O’Connell), a street actor, wants acting credentials. History teacher Caden (Chris Harder) has written several screenplays that may be helpful. The actress Alicia (Claire Rigsby) is content to stare at the ceiling while the others scratch and claw their way toward agreement on a script.
The audience is treated to several versions of how that first Thanksgiving might have played–most of them wickedly funny. The ones that are historically accurate, alas, lack the correct levels of sensitivity. To do satire well is a balancing act. Many things can go terribly wrong. Rest assured, FastHorse hits the bull’s eye every time she takes aim. As her characters venture deeper into the Thanksgiving play’s hidden pitfalls, she holds up a mirror to those well-meaning progressives among us who don’t have a clue.
This is a hilarious play. The characters struggle with their assignment, and their attempts at solutions are worthy of Saturday Night Live. All are well-intentioned people, but as the play’s director Luan Schooler says, “Having good intentions does not actually do a thing.”
Larissa FastHorse (Sicangu Lakota) is an award-winning playwright who is very clear about what a tricky thing history can be, particularly regarding her people. Her play is the second full production of Artists Repertory’s new play development program, Table/Room/Stage, which was established in 2015 with start-up funding from the Oregon Community Foundation. It already is scheduled for its Off-Broadway premiere this fall at Playwrights Horizons, and at the Cincinnati Playhouse for its upcoming season.
Portlanders can see The Thanksgiving Play at Artists Rep through April 29.
(Photo: Chris Harder, Claire Rigsby, and Michael O’Connell in The Thanksgiving Play at Artists Repertory Theatre. Photo by Russell J. Young.)