Thanksgiving Play Review

The Thanksgiving Play by Larissa FastHorse is the first play written by a Native American playwright to make it to Broadway – and there’s no surprise as to why it did. It is a satirical comedy that shines light not only on the ignorance of the majority in the country, but it also shines a light on the unfortunate truth within the education system when it comes to the Thanksgiving mythos. The GableStage production, directed by artistic director Bari Newport, brings this much needed piece to the South Florida community in a way that easily could’ve fallen flat, but instead stands proudly on two feet running in the right direction.

In The Thanksgiving Play a group of four well-intentioned white teaching artists scramble to create an ambitious “woke” Thanksgiving performance. Despite their overtly eager efforts to put on the most culturally sensitive show possible, it quickly becomes clear that even those with good intentions can be undone by their own blind spots. Newport takes what could be seen as a simple and silly comedy and turns it into what satire is meant to do – turning a microscopic lens onto the behaviors and very often damaging nature of good natured ignorance.

The cast is made up of South Florida veterans, each one more than up for the task of the witty comedic speed in which FastHorse has written the dialogue that can make all jokes fall flat if even one word slips up.

Logan(Jeni Hacker, most recently seen in Zoetic Stages Next To Normal), acts as the director of this upcoming Thanksgiving performance. She is determined to put on the most authentic and culturally sensitive show about the holiday that anyone has ever seen, even if it is made up entirely of children. Hacker commands the stage by giving audiences a nostalgic taste of those teachers everyone has had at one point who was always trying to do too much, never self-aware as to how they were coming off, and in doing so her high strung comedy shines.

Jaxton(Stephen G. Anthony), Logan’s “paramour”, is a free spirited actor/street performer/pseudo philosopher who spends as much time trying to recognize his own white privilege simply by talking about it ad nauseam. Throughout the play he offers small insights based on his own experiences while trying everything he can to uplift his partners vision, and while Anthony might not be the quickest in the comedic quartet, his pacing ends up lending itself to Jaxtons persona.

Photo Credit – Magnus Stark

Caden(Tom Wahl), the enthusiastic teacher students love to be annoyed by as he comes over prepared, with hours of research under his belt, is the expert and “writer” within this hopeful production of his own work. What pushes him forward is the excitement in having his work performed, for the first time, by adults. Wahl captures the eager, “fun” teacher to a tee, and whether he was aware of it or not gives off Walter White(Breaking Bad) vibes, before everything went wrong of course. He bounces between awkward and uncomfortable to excited with ease in a way that makes it hard to not laugh in this characters pure innocence throughout the heated discussions as to what can and can’t be said or done in this performance.

Alicia(Anna Lise Jensen), the final member to join this troupe of artists comes in as the specially hired professional actress from Hollywood. She was specifically chosen by Logan through a certain grant and in her eyes, the piece that makes the whole performance possible. Alicia says exactly what is on her mind with next to no filter, and never wants more than what is exactly in front of her, which in some ways is something to be admired. She isn’t so much “ditsy” as she is just… unaware and according to herself she isn’t the “smartest”, it doesn’t mean she is stupid. Jensen highlights this perfectly, with an almost valley girl dialect, keeping everyone around her on their toes as to the next thing she was going to say. The timing and delivery of her performance could’ve been easily mistaken as simplistic but there is a skill to it that Jensen never lets up on, no matter the moment, or the speed in which the writing demanded.

Photo Credit – Magnus Stark

The original Broadway cast of this play was geared towards the younger side, but Newport chose to go in the opposite direction – which could have been a mistake in the wrong directors hands, and thankfully that was not the case. In fact that was the last thing on anyone’s mind, it wasn’t even a question as to whether it did or didn’t work because the truth of the matter is, it made no difference in this production. Newports direction of the play lent itself to each of the actors strengths and the satirical prowess of the playwright.

Set within an auditorium/cafeteria, this production brings us back to those lunchrooms where you can feel the awkwardness of the stage waiting to be performed on while students are their school lunches. With beautifully realistic set design by Frank J. Oliva, this production transports us all to those fun, awkward, and terrifying school cafeteria days. The detail from the tables, to the lunch line in the corner with a cooler of drinks for those who had the money their parents gave them , felt all too real, which only gave us a much more immersive experience in this non-immersive piece. And of course this world would not be filled without the acute eye of Natasha Lopes Hernandez who not only designed the props, but was in charge of set dressing.

Photo Credit – Magnus Stark

The one thing that stood out miles ahead of the rest of the play, were the transitional scenes. Each of these scenes are taken from actual teachers, their unfortunately very real classroom activities surrounding thanksgiving. The easy route would’ve been pre-recording all of these, but Newport chose to make them live performances which only deepens the discomfort in which each scene exists in. She doesn’t steer away from the ugliness by hiding anything and in fact leans into it, because how else can people know what is wrong, if they aren’t confronted with it in its pure form. Drums lead us into the scenes and then take us back out into the rest of the play, and the core of the play, the core of these characters lies within these all too real classroom performances.

This play will make people laugh, scoff, and some might leave with a sense of indifference, and maybe that’s okay. Satire isn’t for everyone, and the ones that laugh might do so for the right or wrong reasons, the ones that scoff might be offended by being called out, and those who are indifferent might not see anything wrong in the characters and the way in which they choose to tell someone else’s story. It is a play meant to leave you with questions, no matter what those questions are, it is a play that will have you conversing into the night and hopefully beyond. Dramaturg Karina Batchelor made sure that this play that on the surface could be perceived as a story about white people, wasn’t just that, and Newport did an excellent job in not letting audiences walk away without questions to ask.

Photo Credit – Magnus Stark

GableStage is a company that continues to ask those questions we need in our lives. Thanks to the works of those like Tyla Palmer, each show this season goes beyond the production with community outreach so that those beyond the typical audience member can feel connected and welcome within the space.

Unfortunately there is only one weekend left to catch this funny, fun, eye opening production over at GableStage. So don’t miss out and get your tickets today before it’s too late. Tickets at the link below:


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