THE THANKSGIVING PLAY Undercooks Its Satire — Review


The cast of The Thanksgiving Play | Photo: Joan Marcus

Juan A. Ramirez
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April 20, 2023 9:30 PM

Clueless, well-meaning white people are the butt of the joke, but not the target of any meaningful criticism, in Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play, a clueless but well-meaning satire receiving its Broadway premiere at Second Stage’s Hayes Theatre. The setup is promising enough: an overly earnest drama teacher (Katie Finneran, welcome back girl!) and her yogi boyfriend (Scott Foley) enlist a Native American historian (Chris Sullivan) and actress (D’Arcy Carden) to help devise a school play about the true origins of the November holiday. Problem is, the academic only studies the subject, and the Hollywood transplant only looks Native—all four creators of this supposedly decolonial project are white.

Chris Sullivan and Scott Foley | Photo: Joan Marcus

The irony and assessment more or less end there, as the foursome is far too blind to their intellectual shortcomings, for any meaningful critique to arise. Hijinks arise as they try to skirt around the white elephants in the room and come up with a way to still confront the country’s historical racism while remaining under budget. Its jabs are sharpest when striking at the cyclical impossibility of placing one’s ideals in the cul-de-sac of performative wokeness:

“Isn’t it inappropriate for us to split along gender lines?”

“But is it more inappropriate for us to intentionally not split along gender lines?

D'Arcy Carden and Katie Finneran | Photo: Joan Marcus

But, for the most part, it’s a succession of “Who’s on first?” bits that start to drag, despite the cast’s—including MVP Finneran (“This is post-BLM and there are grants at stake!”)—best efforts. And Rachel Chavkin, who masterfully mapped farce and intellect onto onstage bodies in How to Defend Yourself earlier this season, here struggles to create slapstick out of a should-be drama of ideas. Running under 90 minutes, with agreeable performances across the board, The Thanksgiving Play is not a bad time. But without a distinct point of view, its bottom line of “Thanksgiving is problematic” renders it only a pleasant, toothless, pilgrimage to the theatre.

The Thanksgiving Play is in performance through June 4, 2023 at the Hayes Theatre on West 45th Street in New York City. For tickets and more information, visit here.

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Juan A. Ramirez

Juan A. Ramirez writes arts and culture reviews, features, and interviews for publications in New York and Boston, and will continue to do so until every last person is annoyed. Thanks to his MA in Film and Media Studies from Columbia University, he has suddenly found himself the expert on Queer Melodrama in Venezuelan Cinema, and is figuring out ways to apply that.

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