(Cover Photo: Johnny Esposito as "Jaxton" and Alison Butts as "Logan" in a scene from "THE THANKSGIVING PLAY" by Larissa FastHorse, presented by Studio Theatre Worcester in Worcester, MA. now playing through November 12, 2023. Photo Credit John Somers)
By Kevin T. Baldwin
“Nothing but gender-neutral actor, director respect from here on. I’ll get rid of the cheese.”
- ("Jaxton") Larissa FastHorse
Written by Larissa FastHorse
Directed by Chris Ortiz
Produced by Rob Klimeczko
Stage Manager Morgan Fitzpatrick
Cast Includes: Alison Butts as "Logan"; Johnny Esposito as "Jaxton"; Erik Johnsen as "Caden"; Sandy Clancy as "Alicia"
Additional Creative Team
Production Manager - Lydia Cochran; Technical Director - John Wayland Somers; Set & Props Designer - Hazel J. Peters; Costume Coordinator - Hannah Schuurman; Lights & Sound Board - Charlie Wynn; Dramaturg - Aya Khoury; Assistant Dramaturg - Vincent Pellegrino; House Manager - Kim Dexter.
November 3, 2023 through November 12, 2023
(Contact Box Office for Exact Times)
COVID 19 PROTOCOLS
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Just in time for Veteran's Day, Studio Theatre Worcester presents "THE THANKSGIVING PLAY" by Larissa FastHorse - a bizarrely funny satire which will beg the question to some:
"Is this going to be one of those shows that seeks to make me feel incredibly guilty about being Caucasian, celebrating Thanksgiving and eating turkey?"
And the answer?
Yes. It is. It absolutely is.
It will do that and more - but, it does so in a highly entertaining way and with many surprising moments of laughter.
(Photo: Johnny Esposito as "Jaxton," Sandy Clancy as "Alicia" and Erik Johnsen as "Caden" share in an exploratory 'improv moment' from "THE THANKSGIVING PLAY" by Larissa FastHorse, presented by Studio Theatre Worcester in Worcester, MA. now playing through November 12, 2023. Photo Credit John Somers)
Written in 2015 by Larissa FastHorse, "THE THANKSGIVING PLAY" interjects several vignettes based on factual, insensitive and culturally horrific samplings of other songs and skits designed to offer elementary school instructors a fun way to help teach young students how to "celebrate" the holiday.
The show premiered Off-Broadway in 2018 then returned to advance to Broadway in 2023, making Larissa FastHorse the first female Native American playwright to have a play produced on Broadway.
"THE THANKSGIVING PLAY" is a 90-minute comedy repast in which these four annoying characters - all homologous, homogenously white as milk - have all assembled with a mission to present an elementary school play about the holiday and, in particular, the very First Thanksgiving.
However, the fractal quartet attempts to present the story in such a way, given that this Thanksgiving coexists with Native American Heritage Month, that their play must focus attention on the plight of indigenous Americans over the centuries.
This, of course, reveals where their respective (limited) knowledge of the above rises to the occasion...and falls.
Conversations span from Christopher Columbus, Catholicism, the annihilation and oppression of Native Americans, the underrepresentation of indigenous cultures in media and dearth of employed Native American actors, and even viewing the Native American identity itself as one, single culture instead of as each of its many, separate tribal identities.
This all sounds like so much fun, doesn't it? Well, you know what?
Yes. It is. It absolutely is.
There is a rich, tasty meal of fun to be had with this show and all that is missing is some gravy.
(Photo: Alison Butts as "Logan" and Sandy Clancy as "Alicia" look up at the sky (or, rather, the ceiling tiles) together in a scene from "THE THANKSGIVING PLAY" by Larissa FastHorse, presented by Studio Theatre Worcester in Worcester, MA. now playing through November 12, 2023. Photo Credit John Somers)
Amid all the awkward behavior and many disagreements on approach, also comes with "THE THANKSGIVING PLAY" a hearty helping of laughs.
We also find ourselves beginning to really like these four deliciously annoying people as they work on their well intentioned (if also weirdly aligned) mission.
Leading the charge is high school teacher and director, Logan (Alison Butts), a vegan who is directing the Thanksgiving play (sure, why not) after a disastrous run of "The Iceman Cometh" she staged with 15 year-olds.
Along with bringing on board her disorganized street entertainer boyfriend, Jaxton (Johnny Esposito), Logan has hired an "authentic" Native American actress, Alicia (Sandy Clancy), who turns out to be far less than authentic and far more or, well, more accurately...exactly...what she seems.
Butts and Esposito work extremely well together, especially in highlighting the steadily unsteady relationship of Logan and Jaxton.
As the "simplistic" Alicia, Clancy provides some hilarious moments as the self-absorbed actress (hired by Logan) who soon becomes the focus of everybody's attention.
Rounding out the unusual quartet is elementary school teacher, Caden (Erik Johnsen ) who is also an aspiring writer, enthusiastic about working on the creative process to make such an ambitious play...at first.
Soon, however, Caden becomes disillusioned by the endless disagreements and, as keenly portrayed by Johnson, frustrated at the absence of a clear plan by Alison and his other two onstage castmates/collaborators.
What starts off as this sociopolitical mission by this foursome (with four completely different and independent objectives) soon becomes an interpersonal discovery whereby they discover much more about themselves.
(Photo: Johnny Esposito as "Jaxton" and Alison Butts as "Logan" in a scene from "THE THANKSGIVING PLAY" by Larissa FastHorse, presented by Studio Theatre Worcester in Worcester, MA. now playing through November 12, 2023. Photo Credit John Somers)
Much of the humor in "THE THANKSGIVING PLAY" comes from all the political correctness triggering that occurs from the endless "woke landmines" put in place, primarily planted by Logan and Jaxton.
Yet, over the course of the play, what the foursome learn about one another helps them learn much more about themselves.
Does this, in turn, help them better tell the story they want to tell? Come see the show to find out.
While there are no flats used for this show's set, the single, split level space and stage has been nicely transformed into a high school drama classroom at the fictitious "Jefferson High School."
Lighting and sound cues are expertly executed throughout the production, as well.
This allows for director Chris Ortiz's clever staging and audiences to flow well from beginning to end with little downtime for any set redressing required.
Prior to and after the performance, audiences should also take notice of a plethora of equally clever artwork surrounding the space which is designed not only to entertain but enlighten.
The "THE THANKSGIVING PLAY" is not a literary feast that will satisfy everyone's dramatic tastes but, for those who are willing to embrace some collective personal guilt in exchange for a hearty helping of the elevated humor, then they will come away from the feast with some satisfaction.
There is a rich irony here in that Native American FastHorse has written a clever play about four white characters seeking to tell the story of Native Americans at the First Thanksgiving.
Yet, then again, that's exactly what Caucasian writers have been attempting with their version of the facts of the First Thanksgiving and of Native American "characters" for centuries.
By minute 90 of "THE THANKSGIVING PLAY," do we actually come away with a better understanding of how the Native Americans at the First Thanksgiving should be honestly recalled and, maybe more importantly, accurately depicted to young people?
Nah...not really. But it's a healthy appetizer, for sure.
"THE THANKSGIVING PLAY" continues at Salem Covenant Church in Worcester until November 12th and it is one, delicious play that is so tasty it should come with a knife and fork. Please pass the gravy.
Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission
Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)
ABOUT THE SHOW
Synopsis: Good intentions collide with absurd assumptions in Larissa FastHorse’s wickedly funny satire, as a troupe of terminally “woke” teaching artists scrambles to create a pageant that somehow manages to celebrate both Turkey Day and Native American Heritage Month. (Description from Concord Theatricals)
High school drama teacher Logan is desperate to save her career.
Always ready to rock the boat, she is now facing a petition that calls for her termination.
So she pursued several grants ranging from education to cultural awareness to bring together three actors that will devise a play about the first Thanksgiving.
Or Native American Heritage Month.
Or just November in general.
With yoga instructor (and boyfriend) Jaxton, elementary teacher Caden, and professional actress Alicia, Logan is out to save her career and tell a culturally conscious story about what it means to be Native American … even though all of the performers are white.
Punctuated by offensive (and completely real) Thanksgiving songs from educators' social media, Larissa FastHorse’s "THE THANKSGIVING PLAY" is a hilarious satiric jab at political correctness, social wokeness, and cultural assumptions. (STAGEAGENT)
ABOUT STUDIO THEATRE WORCESTER
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