Grab Your Seat at the Table for “The Thanksgiving Play”
Circle Theatre Players, in their 42nd Season, has scored the coup of presenting the Capital Region premiere of Larissa FastHorse’s “The Thanksgiving Play.” In reading up on CTP, they have their own history with Thanksgiving as their first one-act was performed at a Seniors party, and in 1981, Joan Fuess was recruited to take over the direction of “The Hollow” after the CTP founder Bert McNary died suddenly in October. That Agatha Christie play, directed by Fuess, bowed 40 years ago this month.
“The Thanksgiving Play” looks at one of our oldest and most venerated holidays and takes aim at all the problematic associations and history connected to this fourth Thursday in November. It’s a play about the making of a play as a teaching artist Logan (the harried and resourceful Lisa Bryk) has received a number of grants to devise a play and has recruited her partner-a barefoot street performer, local celebrity Jaxton (Steve Maggio, chill, evolved…and hysterical), a history teacher, Caden (button down and outrageous Dan Smirlock) who would like to start the play with 4,000-year-old Harvest Festivals and the ringer, Alicia (Sara Guzman delightful in her Sand Lake debut) who was cast by Zoom audition from L.A. for her ethnic headshot which had her dressed up as a Native American with turquoise earrings.
Larissa FastHorse wrote the play out of frustration with regional theaters who constantly rejected her plays with the excuse that all of her plays included a Native American actor and no one thought that they could find one to cast. The 2015 play calls for four Caucasian actors who try to devise an accurate, sensitive and inclusive theater piece for children celebrating Thanksgiving. It skewers not only the American traditions surrounding the holiday but more incisively and funnily, performative wokeness where the self-absorbed theater artists are loath to take the wrong cultural step but have no problem objectifying each other and asserting artistic pretensions. Conservatives will laugh at the woke pretensions while progressives will enjoy the issues laden cultural moment we’re in. The playwright has since won the MacArthur “Genius” fellowship and the play is believed to be the first by a Native American performed off-Broadway.
The cast and production of “The Thanksgiving Play” directed by Melanie & Brian Sheldon gleefully smash taboos and have the greatest time taking apart our country’s troubled legacy, theater mad egos and the strenuously sensitive. The play is opened with a Thanksgiving skit that may have been culled form a drama kids Pinterest page called “The Twelve Days of Thanksgiving” and the cast does a great job introducing themselves, the performance style of the evening and their joy as performers playing children.
The cast all have fantastic moments. I loved Dan’s wonkish delight in the historical details of the Harvest celebration and I actually learned something about the Florida chapter in his history. Sara Guzman radiates centered calm and her self-possession becomes a weapon to drive the men crazy which she wields with a hair flip. Lisa Bryk is all bubbly can-do enthusiasm until her cast starts throwing around a dummy’s head and she loses it in one of the evening’s funniest highlights. I laughed all night long at Steve Maggio’s Jaxton, from his perpetually questioning posture to his eagerly accepting openness which leads him to all manner of absurdity. He is the consummate actor for an amateur production asking total commitment, emotional accessibility and creative ingenuity: Steve & Jaxton.
It was a great evening in Averill Park with a new script that addresses cultural and political issues roiling in the country today. You will find much to be grateful for in this very funny production of “The Thanksgiving Play.”
Through 11/21 @ Sand Lake Center for the ArtsTickets: www.slca-ctp.org