Playwright Larissa Fasthorse has spent her life in a misunderstood and often maligned minority – she’s Native American. Enlightened liberals likely know about the decades-long misrepresentation of American Indians in Hollywood, their casino holdings, and the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre when hundreds of South Dakota Native Americans were slaughtered on their own reservation – documented in 1970’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.
Greg Keller, Jennifer Bareilles, Jeffrey Bean, Margo Seibert
Still, history largely lies in the name of political agenda, and Thanksgiving tradition (started after The Civil War) requires that children all over the country emulate friendly pilgrims and Indians at a simplified, collaborative feast (while adults gather to give generalized thanks). Though Lasthorse is an activist, she’s decided, at least in this instance, to make her point with satire.
Logan (Jennifer Bareilles) is a quirky vegan who can’t seem to hold a job teaching drama because of putting extreme liberal values into unreasonable action. The young woman has nonetheless managed to secure a grant to develop and direct a Thanksgiving play spotlighting Native Americans at a local elementary school. Her partner, Jaxton (Greg Keller) is a street performer with pretensions who practices yoga yet cheats on Logan’s vegan diet by eating real cheese. Jaxton will be one of her actors.
Jennifer Bareilles, Margo Seibert
The other two performers in Logan’s skeleton cast are earnest, aspiring playwright and school teacher, Caden (Jeffrey Bean), who shows up with hundreds of researched pages starting with harvest celebrations going back thousands of years and leading to the slaughter of American Indians. And pretty, empty-headed Alicia (Margo Seibert), an LA actress hired from her online headshot and creds and, because of costuming, mistaken for a Native American.
This, Logan tells her motley cast in an attempt to wrangle them, is to be a “devised” play. All will contribute. Alicia makes a move to leave until the script is complete, but is convinced she has something to offer… before they all discover she hasn’t got a drop of Native American blood.
Ensuing chaos is an equal opportunity skewer of every possible politically correct and incorrect premise about not only Thanksgiving, but our culture. Research has been done, people! The four argue about and enact content, construction, dialogue and what they’re representing. (Logan has grant guidelines to which she must adhere.) Further comic relief is provided by silly songs and ingenious use of terrific puppets and imaginative costumes.
Jennifer Barielles, Greg Keller, Jeffrey Bean
The piece is a clever, extended Saturday Night Live sketch. I found that, aside from visuals and the occasional chuckle, it wore thin. Others laughed more. There’s no question intent is worthy however and filled with extremely valid observation.
Acting is fine with Margo Siebert a wide-eyed standout.
Direction by Moritz von Stuelpnagel is zany and inventive. Even Logan and Jaxton’s ceremonial uncoupling (like a secret fraternity connection) is funny. Alicia’s stagey narcissism is splendid. The stage is broadly, effectively used.
Wilson Chin’s Scenic Design and Tilly Grimes’ Costume and Puppet Design not only manifest a credible, detailed classroom but concoct fun solutions to visualizing plays within the play. Props are grand.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Jeffrey Bean, Jennifer Bareilles, Greg Keller, Margo Seibert
The Thanksgiving Play by Larissa Fasthorse
Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
416 West 42nd Street
Through November 25, 2018