Lyric's "Thanksgiving": Diatribe Skewering Turkeys

Jesse Hinson, Amanda Collins, Grace Experience & Barlow Adamson in "The Thanksgiving Play"
(photo: Glenn Perry)

The Thanksgiving Play, the current production by Lyric Stage Company, is truly a play about nothing. This is not a criticism, but a factual statement. Yet it's also about everything, at least everything that matters. (You'll have to experience it in person to understand this convoluted logic). This work, by Native American Larissa FastHorse, first performed at New York's Playwrights Horizons, is out to skewer a mostly-overlooked subspecies, the American white liberal (and we know who we are) and its penchant for condescension. This she does, with savvy and savage humor as she figuratively (or is it literally?) characterizes her complacent and compliant targets, primarily those well-meaning creatives out to be politically woke. A truly “insider” play, this will be best appreciated by theatre folks and season (and seasoned) subscriber audiences in the know. It's already noteworthy that this is the first time American Theatre Magazine has listed a work by a Native American playwright as one of the year's most frequently produced plays by regional companies.

Jesse Hinson, Grace Experience, Amanda Collins & Barlow Adamson in "The Thanksgiving Play"
(photo: Glenn Perry)

It begins with an announcement that a play will be presented about the first Thanksgiving (between the “Separatists” and the Wampanoag Nation), in part so that “the Indians can practice sharing”. Its subsequent simple plot features elementary school drama teacher Logan (Amanda Collins) who wants to honor our country's first peoples via her proposed play, not so coincidentally subsidized by her recent Native American Heritage Month Awareness Through Art grant. Her spaced-out boyfriend Jaxton (Jesse Hinson) a street performer and self-confessed yoga dude and “vegan ally”, shows where he's coming from as he gifts Logan with a mason jar made of broken glass from housing projects. The rest of the cast recruited for this school play-to-be include Caden (Barlow Adamson), a third grade teacher and frustrated playwright, and Alicia (Grace Experience), an actor from L.A, whose credits include being an understudy for Jazmine in Disneyland's “Alladin” show, giving rise to the question as to whether there were “any non-Disney references in (her) life?”. In any case, this team of teaching artists and reenactors plan to produce what the author describes as some “performative wokeness”. This all may leave you gasping for breath between funny lines, as FastHorse has a quiver or two full of them and this cast's efforts are well done.

Jesse Hinson, Barlow Adamson, Grace Experience & Amanda Collins in "The Thanksgiving Play"
(photo: Glenn Perry)

While it remains too brief a diatribe (ninety minutes, shorter than one's commute to the theater), it is decidedly on target. With fast-paced Direction by Scott Edmiston, and a superbly assembled creative team that includes Scenic Design by Janie E. Howland, Costume Design by Rachel Padula-Shufelt, Lighting Design by Karen Perlow and Sound Design by Dewey Dellay, it's a buffet for buffs who'll pick up on its many “in” allusions, a plethora of witty asides that make for a filling, if ultimately slight, verbal banquet.

As one character in the work warns: “sound waves travel”. Ouch, do they ever. FastHorse is a member of the Sicangu Lakota Nation in South Dakota, and as such states she has much in common with the folks she met during an extended spell in Ireland, viewing her tribe and theirs as colonized peoples. She also notes that Native American actors keep their ethnicity low profile, yet “we're still here”, and that too often she receives a sort of all-or-nothing response from her “allies”. The last act of her plays, she maintains, should take place “on the drive home”, as they are intentionally open for interpretation; they ask questions, such as what a “dramaturg” (“the Holy Grail of American theatre”) is, the hilarious answer to which won't be spoiled here.

If you're in need of theater to chew on, it's on the menu through November 10th, so circle your wagons.

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