The ironic genesis of Larissa FastHorse’s “The Thanksgiving Play,” which opened at the Underground on Thursday night, is that her plays could not be produced because they included at least one Indigenous character and theaters were convinced they could not find Native American actors for the roles.
So FastHorse wrote a play about four white people trying to produce a politically correct play about Thanksgiving to show to elementary school students.
What’s the worst thing that can happen?
Get a piece of paper and a pen, because we are going to be making a list.
Cheryl Skafte plays Logan, the director, who is passionate about theater and wants everybody to feel part of the collaborative process, no matter how counterproductive their suggestions. Eric Elefson is her partner, Jaxton, a street performer committed equally to yoga and political correctness.
Together, Logan and Jaxton achieve a level of hyper-active self-awareness that absolutely stuns the mind (to be specific, a white-privilege-assailed-by-liberal-guilt type of mind). After all, there’s racism and sexism, but then there’s also Ikea.
You could both bust a gut and blow a gasket trying to follow the torturous logic of their dizzying dialogues.
Caden, the historian of the group, knows everything there is to know about all the First Thanksgivings that predated the “real” First Thanksgiving. There was something about the way Phillip Hoelscher plays Caden that convinced me the character is somehow related to Dwight Schrute.
Last to arrive is Alicia, a professional actress hired especially for the project. Alyson Enderle plays her with an amazing display of striking poses and gestures that would be the envy of any elocutionist. The audience ate up everything she did all night long.
The setting is Logan’s classroom, where the globe is turned to display the “New World” that did not exist until Europeans stumbled upon it, and the walls are decked out in posters for plays her students have done (check them out and see which productions you think made the most parental heads explode).
Ultimately, “The Thanksgiving Play” is about way more than Thanksgiving. By the final spotlight, I was convinced that the Thanksgiving stuff was not as funny as all the bits about theater. But neither of those was as funny as all those attempts to negotiate the perils of privilege.
Directed by Robert Lee, this satirical play gathers momentum, with each scene easily earning more laughs than its predecessor, especially when things came to a head (or two) in the third scene. This is primarily because FastHorse keeps building off the interaction of the characters, finding new levels of absurdity every time Logan or someone else comes up with a new idea.
Each of the four scenes is prefaced by a video segment that provides us with some absolutely cringeworthy examples of songs and rhymes about Thanksgiving and Native people that were taught to elementary school students in this country. These were literal (not figurative) “omg” moments for the audience.
There are plenty of laughs here, but also much more. So, mission accomplished.
If you go
- What: “The Thanksgiving Play” by Larissa FastHorse
- Where: The Underground, 506 W. Michigan, St., Duluth
- When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12-20
- Tickets: duluthplayhouse.org
Lawrance Bernabo is a theater and arts reviewer for the Duluth News Tribune.
This story originally contained a misspelling of Eric Elefson’s name. It was updated at 4:18 p.m. with the proper spelling. The News Tribune regrets the error.