Lyric Stage’s ‘The Thanksgiving Play’ is a tasty dish
BOSTON – It is just an elementary school play but a quartet of “teaching artists” twist themselves into human pretzels to make sure that this Thanksgiving play checks every box, and is banking on the hope it ends up so “woke” that that it can make a parents’ petition with 300 names on it go away.
In Larissa FastHorse’s “The Thanksgiving Play,” now on stage at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through Nov. 10, four well-meaning but ultimately clueless folks are hoisted on their own petards as they struggle to both be politically and theatrically correct on the way to crafting a piece that will be acceptable to everyone in every way.
All the while celebrating both Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Month, which given what happened after that first Thanksgiving, seems an impossible task. The group is armed with grants from several different sources and each has his or her own agenda when it comes to crafting the play.
It’s an impossible task, to be sure, but off they go. Director Logan (the wonderful Amanda Collins) isn’t just a vegan, but a vegan who becomes physically ill and retches at the thought of millions of turkeys being slaughtered and eaten on the holiday. Right away, it seems that Thanksgiving clearly isn’t really her thing.
She claims to be okay with the crimes of you carnivores, but not with the actual cheese being eaten right in front of her by Jaxton (Jesse Hinson), with whom she has a relationship and who has been hauled by Logan off the street corners where he has been performing to be a part of this production.
When doing a piece that that has to do with events that happened almost 400 years ago, a historian is in order, and Barlow Adamson is Caden, a rather star-struck historian who has visions of becoming a stage icon. He is in favor of beginning the play some 4,500 years in the past, with the beginnings of harvest rituals, and then gradually working up to the 1621 celebration – all in the 45-minute limit.
Then there Alicia (Grace Experience), a sexy young actress who is the supposed actual Native American centerpiece to the whole production. D’oh! She isn’t Native American at all, just Irish and Spanish and such and the highlight of her resume is third understudy to Jasmine at Disneyland.
She still attracts the attention of both of the males in the room, which is another distraction the beleaguered Logan doesn’t need.
The pitch-perfect casting marked director Scott Edmiston’s return to Lyric, where he has crafted memorable productions in recent years of classics such as “The Little Foxes,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “My Fair Lady.”
Director Logan is faced with having to fulfill the terms of her many grants while also trying to make parents forget her ill-fated production of “The Iceman Cometh.”
The ideas run far afield, both hilarious and awkward, from a Thanksgiving-themed takeoff on “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to a group of turkeys kibitzing on their fate.
The topic is right in the wheelhouse of playwright FastHorse, a member of the Sicangu Lakota nation of South Dakota, wise to the details of the legendary 1621 sitdown between Pilgrims and the Wampanoags and what followed, genocide and the Indians being on the short end of the stick in hundreds of years of dealings with the white invaders.
FastHorse has had plays rejected by theaters because they had Native American characters and the theaters had no one to play the parts and didn’t want to out actors in in redface. There is much irony in that she had wrote a play that has been widely produced that purports to be a play with a Native American character but actually doesn’t have one.
And while she skewers modern sensibilities and details how political correctness can paralyze the creative process, she takes a few swings at the worlds of theater and children’s theater in general. FastHorse doesn’t connect with every swing, but the swings and misses are few and far between, and the laughs plentiful.
The uber-detailed elementary school set by Janie E. Howland highlights solid production values across the board.
Edmiston had the honor of directing the first play under new executive director Matt Chapuran, who took over for the retiring Spiro Veloudos, who will still be directing at Lyric on a freelance basis, including the upcoming “Murder on the Orient Express.” Spiro always felt good about handing his theater over to Edmiston, for good reason. He, his cast, and the design team have given FastHorse’s piece every chance to succeed, and it does, even if its characters do not.
Spiro should have trademarked his curtain speech, but alas, he did not, and Matt has purloined much of it and he has already made it his own. Best of luck to Matt and health and happiness ahead for Spiro as he returns full-time to directing. Two class acts.
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston production of Larissa FastHorse’s “The Thanksgiving Play.” Directed by Scott Edmiston. Scenic design by Janie E. Howland. Costume design by Rachel Padula-Shufelt. Lighting design by Karen Perlow. Sound design and original music by Dewey Dellay. At the Lyric Stage through Nov. 10. Lyricstage.com.