Review of The Thanksgiving Play at Playwrights Horizons

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    November 6, 2018
    Review by:
    David Walters

    Playwrights Horizons is currently presenting The Thanksgiving Play by Larissa FastHorse, doing, in a way, the very thing the play is mocking. This month as we look at our early American history and focus on our past cultural atrocities to indigenous peoples, this choice feels to me as poltically incorrect as the characters the play mocks (or am I too being too hyper-sensitive?).

    Four white people: A school drama teacher (Jennifer Bareilles), her yoga/street performer boyfriend (Greg Keller), a school history teacher (Jeffrey Bean) and a hired LA actress (Margo Seibert) (hired because they thought she was Native American, but since it’s politically incorrect to ask, they find out only afterwards that she only plays indigenous people because of her look), have to come up with a 45-minute play to present for a Thanksgiving pageant for a grade school. Ultimately, they fail and come up with presenting a stage filled with nothing, to represent the voices that are not there to be represented.

    These hyper-politically correct white people showcase how difficult and ultimately impossible it is to be correct and how focusing on being correct, only makes it worse. The lack of casting of indigenous actors, failed attempts to humanely represent indigenous peoples, and the insane assumptions we have of Native Americans as one people and not as belonging to specific tribes are roadblocks in truthfully telling the Thanksgiving story, as to tell it truthfully, it would be covered in blood.

    As scene breaks, there are several moments throughout the play when a pin-light highlights one of the actors who then steps out to share with the audience through song, the insanity of our history in this country with our portrayal of Thanksgiving.

    The back story on this play mirrors the content. Not being able to get her plays produced, as it required casting Native American actors and the theaters interested in producing her work don't have access to that talent pool (if indeed it does exist at all), Ms. FastHorse charged herself with the exercise of writing a play about the Native American experience without having to cast Native Americans. She succeeded.

    Ultimately, my job is to view this as a piece of theater, not a positive or negative political or personal statement despite the author’s backstory and the history of where the material is coming from, and then tell you if there is anything to gain by spending your money and your time in what it has to give back to you. In its current state, I would have to say no.

    Not that it’s bad in any way. The actors all do very credible jobs, the directing is competent and the lighting, set and costumes are all up to par. The writing is clear, there are witty moments, funny situations and thought-provoking statements, BUT (and I made it a big but) this is not something for a New York audience compared to what the play has to compete against.

    In closing, let me say this though, as a white male sitting in a packed audience of other white people watching this play, I did find myself wishing I had a Native American friend I could have brought with me to give a different perspective.

    (Photo by Joan Marcus)


    What the popular press says...

    "Just because a target’s too easy doesn’t mean it won’t make a satisfying meal. Take turkeys, or the holiday they stand for. In Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play, which opened on Monday at Playwrights Horizons, the familiar, whitewashed story of Pilgrims and Native Americans chowing down together gets a delicious roasting from expert farceurs. But Thanksgiving is not the only object of the satire, and to the extent the play sometimes seems to miss its mark, it’s because the mark keeps moving."
    Jesse Green for New York Times

    "If you consider yourself truly "woke," you might want to see the new comedy being given its world premiere at Playwrights Horizons because it's written by a female, Native-American playwright. And if you're not, you'll still want to see The Thanksgiving Play, because it's very, very funny."
    Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - Hollywood Reporter