FastHorse explains, “I have again and again heard that my plays, after they are produced once, don’t get additional productions … because of casting. Theaters claim they don’t know any indigenous actors or they cannot afford to bring in indigenous actors …
“I would rather get the stories out there to give non-indigenous people the chance to learn about us, and to show indigenous people that there is a place for them in theater.”
And so FastHorse decided to write a play that would mock the attempts of theaters to deal with indigenous characters.
The result is the wickedly funny “The Thanksgiving Play,” now filling Capital Stage with laughter. FastHorse describes its success as “an opportunity to satirize one of the insidious problems in American theater: the fear of making mistakes or offending someone unintentionally.” In this ultra-PC era, its success is indeed both heartbreaking and bittersweet.
Logan (Jennifer LeBlanc) is a high school drama teacher trying to create a Thanksgiving play without an indigenous character. She is joined in this endeavor by her yoga friend Jaxton (Cassidy Brown), politically correct to a fault, who does street performances about composting. Logan is also vegan, and the very thought of a turkey dinner makes her ill.
Jaxton’s idea of how they are going to create the play is to “start with this pile of jagged facts and misguided governmental policies and historical stereotypes about race and turn that all into something beautiful and dramatic and educational for the kids.”
What could possibly go wrong?
Logan is proud of herself for getting a “Native American Heritage Month Awareness through Art” grant, which gives her funding to hire a professional actor. Based on a headshot, she hires Alicia (Gabby Battista) who, as it turns out, is an “ethnic looking” American who can play several cultures depending on how she is photographed. Her braids, a headband and turquoise jewelry led Logan to assume she was Native American.
The group is rounded out by Caden (Jouni Kirjola), an elementary school history teacher with Broadway dreams. He has lots of research, but no experience. He wants to start this play 4,000 years before the present, when European farmers held Harvest Home Festivals.
This well-intentioned quartet brainstorm ideas for the play, their discussion only showing how completely clueless they are about what they hope to accomplish. “Do you know how hard it is for a straight white male to feel less-than in this world?”
Interspersed throughout the play are four different videos of children from very young to high school performing some kind of Thanksgiving play. As I suspect these are not scripted, but real plays, each is funnier than the other.
Director Michael Stevenson keeps the action moving and the laughter constant. It may not yet be the Fourth of July, but this Thanksgiving gift is a wonderful crowd-pleaser.