If one is not yet familiar with playwright Larissa Fasthorse’s impressive body of work (What Would Crazy Horse Do?; Urban Rez/ Native Nation/ Lakota Project Trilogy), all delving into the Native American people, then “The Thanksgiving Play “ now at the Geffen, is the one to see. This show, written by Fasthorse and directed by Michael John Graces, displays their tremendous genius and knack for brilliant ensemble narratives. The cast includes Noah Bean as Jaxton; Alexandra Henrikson as Alicia, Jeff Marlow as Caden; and Samantha Sloyan as Logan. The Thanksgiving Play is a bittersweet holiday story filled with joy, nostalgia, and good intentions, as the four characters join together to put on a ‘play within a play,’ honoring native Americans and literally singing their praises. As the plot thickens, the characters focus in on the bigger picture questions of preserving cultural identity versus assimilation, sharing pain amidst laughter, and ultimately life lasting connections.
Larissa herself was hoping for “a story universally American,” and landed on the “reality of what this holiday is and where it came from.” In dealing with a highly emotionally charged subject matter, it is quite intuitive on her part to bring some levity and playfulness into the mix. The cast, with extraordinary rapport and chemistry, includes Logan (Sloyan), a perfectionist, anxious high school drama teacher, who collaborated with boyfriend/artistic director Jaxton (Bean), to create a historically and politically correct educational theatre masterpiece, a lofty goal, indeed. Caden (Marlow) is the group’s historian/researcher, with an obvious crush on cutesy new student Alicia (Henrikson). Fasthorse, with her shrewd ability to commingle satire, poetry, and dark humor and timely topics into one entity, can be likened to a Sam Shepard of modern time.
Just as the plot contains dark images, such as a graphic scene involving plastic, bloodied Native American doll heads, the characters unwittingly dance around their own guilt. Kudos to the set designer (Sara Ryung Clement) and lighting designer (Tom Ontiveros), for creating a vibrant, colorful, upbeat classroom, amidst the dark satirical subject matter, the ultimate juxtaposition. As Fasthorse states, “that is what the whole play is about. To do something, make a mistake, and own it, allowing us to move forward, having learned something .
The play is filled with such blatant contradictions throughout: vibrancy and darkness; tragedy and comedy, and the cast members leap from one emotion to another, almost effortlessly. The play is a constant roller coaster of extreme emotions, keeping the play multi dimensional and allowing the audience to come to its own conclusion.
The symbolism of playing and singing sweet, familiar Thanksgiving games, tunes, and stories, runs in complete contrast with major life and death decisions families and friends must make, right in the moment, because life is fleeting, and every diverse voice needs to be heard, loud and clear.
For tickets, call (310)208-5454