Larissa FastHorse’s “The Thanksgiving Play” is an audacious comedy that takes aim at the buffoonery of the white-run theater world and the paralysis that can go hand in hand with over-analysis. The play centers around a group of theater nerds who meet in an elementary school classroom to craft a dramatic rendition of the Thanksgiving story that will possess adequate levels of accuracy and sensitivity. When their professional actor who was hired to lend an Indigenous voice turns out not to be Native American, the classroom becomes a frantic workshop of wokeness, and the meta production plunges headlong into a state of absurdity.
The play brilliantly dissects and satirizes the dynamics of identity politics, making fun of everything from virtue signaling to “vegan allyship.” FastHorse, who belongs to the Sicangu Lakota Nation, uses her sardonic sensibility and heritage to shape the play’s comedic tone. She says, “Native Americans are living like the world’s longest dark comedy. I mean, we just have to laugh.”
But beyond the laughs, FastHorse is also making a serious point about the dangers of a supposedly respectful hands-off approach. She hopes the play will leave audience members with more questions than answers, particularly about the role of the white-run theater world and the importance of minority representation. FastHorse, a former professional ballet dancer, says she’s using humor within satire to help audiences rewire the way their brain works.
Overall, “The Thanksgiving Play” is a scandalously entertaining turducken of identity politics and humor, guaranteed to leave audiences with a queasy sense of confusion and self-loathing. And yet, for all its absurdity, it’s a thought-provoking and important look at the state of theater in America, and an example of what can happen when art dares to take risks.
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